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New Start: supported employment for those with long-term health conditions

Graeme Cooke
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This views quality work as part of any health treatment, rather than treatment having to precede employment, says IPPR’s research director

Last month, a leaked Department for Work & Pensions memo suggested employment and support allowance was “one of the largest fiscal risks facing the government”, leaving it “vulnerable to a breach” of itscap on welfare spending.

There have been major problems with the work capability assessment, while the Work Programme continues to prove ineffective for those groups.

More profoundly, the Institute for Public Policy’s new book, The Condition of Britain, argues that simply extending the kind of employment support designed for mainstream jobseekers to those on ESA is destined to fail.

By contrast, our proposal is that when the current round of Work Programme contracts expires, the government should advance a qualitatively different, but equally employment-focused approach for those with long-term health conditions and disabilities.

This would involve putting local areas in charge of an integrated, locally led supported employment programme, which we call New Start.

Often referred to as the “place, train and maintain” approach, the term “supported employment” refers to strategies that work with individuals and prospective employers to secure rapid job entry followed by ongoing support.

This views quality work as part of any health treatment, rather than treatment having to precede employment.

By focusing on what kind of work an individual can do and what is needed to enable that, supported employment strategies seek to overcome the unhelpful distinction between whether someone “can” or “cannot” work.

To spread this kind of approach to a far greater number of ESA claimants will require two key shifts.

First, expertise and resources from a range of sectors need to be drawn in – health, housing, social services and skills.

Such services often do not take employment sufficiently seriously, but the prime contractor model in the Work Programme locks them out of involvement. Therefore the second shift would be for the local areas to take on the power and responsibility to boost employment among this group.

We suggest local authorities – or the emerging combined authorities – take responsibility for designing and commissioning back-to-work provision for local ESA claimants.

This would take advantage of existing local contacts and relationships, which Jobcentre Plus and Work Programme providers often lack. Resources from the DWP should be matched by local budgets, such as public health, with the aim of drawing in further capacity from clinical commissioning groups and the European Social Fund.

Local performance should be transparent and a focus on employment outcomes should be driven by bonus payments to local authorities that ensure the financial dividend from lower benefit caseloads is shared between the Treasury and local areas.

Such an approach would mark a major shift in back-to-work support, and would draw on experience and evidence.

Graeme Cooke, research director, IPPR

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