37.We were aware that the Department was considering consolidating the specialist programme for disabled people, Work Choice, and the Work Programme into a single scheme to run from April 2017. The Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, DWP Minister for Employment (the Minister), indicated that consolidation would “make sense” from the Department’s perspective, but told us that she was still considering all options. This chapter considers the strengths and weaknesses of the Work Choice programme and weighs the case for and against consolidation into a single programme.
38.Few witnesses supported consolidating contracted employment support for all disabled people into the main programme. Exceptions included Papworth Trust, a specialist Work Programme subcontractor we visited in Cambridge, and NCG, a Work Programme prime. The key benefits of consolidation would be to further reduce the number of contracts, which would simplify procurement processes, produce further efficiencies in contract management, and thereby further reduce overall running costs. Papworth also had a principled objection to treating disabled people differently, and therefore favoured their inclusion in a single programme. NCG believed that consolidation could also increase performance by combining the best practices of each of the current programmes.
39.Providers of Work Choice, including Pluss, Remploy and Shaw Trust, argued that it was essential to maintain a separate, specialist programme. Pluss and Remploy told us that the current mix of upfront service fee and PBR was a key strength of the programme; it supported innovation and investment in high quality support, which was vital in a programme for people with substantial needs, while also maintaining a focus on outcomes. However, there was an acceptance that the current 70% service fee (shortly to be reduced to 50%) would need to be reviewed; Steve Hawkins, Chief Executive of Pluss, acknowledged that 70% was “generous”. Remploy believed that providers should have to “evidence why an up-front payment is required, and the innovative provision that it is driving.”
40.The most common argument put forward against combining support into a single set of contracts was that the Work Programme had not been a success for people with substantial health and disability-related employment support needs. Consolidation into a national mainstream programme therefore risked damaging performance for this group. A number of witnesses pointed out that maintaining a separate programme, commissioned via smaller contracts, had enabled specialist disability organisations to deliver at both prime and subcontractor level, which had contributed to Work Choice’s relative success. Tom Gash, a public procurement expert at the Institute for Government, warned that larger contracts, which would result from consolidation of Work Choice and Work Programme, would inevitably lead to “very few or no specialist primes.”
41.Others argued that it was important to maintain a voluntary programme; there was evidence that voluntary approaches are more effective for people with health conditions and disabilities, and some evidence that mandatory programmes can be detrimental to people’s health, particularly mental health. Some believed that a voluntary programme which was not connected to benefit-type was essential, to ensure help was available to unemployed disabled people who were not claiming benefits, or who were otherwise out of scope for a mainstream welfare-to-work programme. They noted that this was particularly the case if the Government was to make progress towards helping over one million more disabled people into work.
42.Two main flaws in the current design of Work Choice were identified, although both could be addressed relatively simply given sufficient resources. First, there were too few places available on Work Choice to meet demand. As previously noted, Work Choice has supported fewer than 90,000 people since its launch in October 2010. It is a “capped” programme: i.e. the number of people who can take part is strictly limited. It has tightly defined eligibility criteria; to be eligible for Work Choice a jobseeker must:
43.Concern was also expressed that Work Choice is not well focused, as was intended, on people with more substantial disability-related needs. The current expectation for participants in Work Choice is that they should be expected to be able to work for 16 hours per week after six months of pre-employment support. Some witnesses noted that this effectively barred people with more substantial needs from participation, as they would often require support for a longer period, and in some cases may not reasonably be expected to aspire to working 16 hours per week.
44.Shaw Trust pointed out that official statistics appear to bear out the claim that Work Choice is not sufficiently well focused on those with higher levels of disability-related need; recent statistics showed that nearly 60% of participants in Work Choice were JSA claimants, while only 17% were claiming a health-related unemployment benefit (ESA; IB; or Severe Disablement Allowance).
45.The Government has made reducing the “disability employment gap” a priority. The configuration of contracted employment programmes from 2017 should reflect this. A separate, voluntary employment programme, for people with substantial health and disability-related barriers to employment, should be retained. The specialist programme should continue to be delivered exclusively by specialist organisations at prime and subcontractor level. There is too great a risk that consolidating support for this group into a national mainstream programme, delivered via non-specialist prime contractors, will diminish the quality and effectiveness of support available.
46.We recommend that the Department at least double the number of places available on the new specialist programme, compared to the current Work Choice programme. We appreciate that its budgets are under pressure, and that a Comprehensive Spending Review is on the horizon. We therefore recommend that, while DWP retain a level of upfront service fee in the new specialist programme, the level be reviewed in consultation with providers, with a view to reducing the upfront costs per participant of the new programme compared to Work Choice.
48.Should the budgetary constraints imposed on DWP in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review be such that the Department chooses, for reasons of cost, to consolidate specialist contracted employment support for disabled people into a larger programme, it will become even more important that DWP’s contracts are configured in a way which more clearly incentivises providers to support those with more challenging barriers. We consider necessary changes to the mainstream contracts in the next chapter.
39 NCG ()
41 Remploy ()
42 See, for example, Inclusion and NIACE ()
43 Pluss (); United Response (); Remploy ()
45 Joint submission from mental health organisations (); Inclusion and NIACE (); Scope ()
46 For on overview of Access to Work, see GOVK.UK, , accessed 2 October 2015
47 London Voluntary Service Council (; United Response ();
48 Shaw Trust ()