Jobs providers delivering the government’s flagship welfare to work programme warned that the scheme is being undermined by the failure of work assessments to deliver enough jobless people on to their books.
The Employment Related Services Association, the trade body for the welfare to work industry, called on the government to take urgent action to ensure that a backlog of work capability assessments is cleared by Atos, the government contractor.
The assessments judge sickness benefit claimants’ fitness for work, but have come under fire for generating a high number of appeals and been criticised by disability charities as unreliable.
Now a Freedom of Information request, published on the Department for Work & Pensions website, has revealed that Atos has completed only 56,000 assessments since they began in April. The government wants to process 11,000 cases a week so that 1.5m are processed by 2015.
The slow progress means providers delivering the Work Programme are getting fewer people referred to them than the coalition’s modelling has indicated, ERSA chief executive Kirsty McHugh said.
The government had said about 20% of all referrals to the Work Programme would be from incapacity benefit claimants, but early indications suggest the figure is between 3-5%.
As providers are paid a higher fee for getting those claiming Employment and Support Allowance into jobs, the low number of referrals is causing problems with providers’ budgets, Ms McHugh said.
She added many people referred from incapacity benefit would be in receipt of specialist services, which are often provided by charities.
She said: “It is vital that people in need of specialist employment services receive them. It is unacceptable that the delay in carrying out [the assessments] means that some of the people who need the most help are not being referred to the Work Programme in a timely matter.
“This is a particularly significant issue for ERSA voluntary sector members who often provide this type of specialist employment support. We are therefore calling on the government to take urgent action to make sure that the backlog of WCAs is cleared and we can get referrals rolling to the voluntary sector.”
A DWP spokeswoman said despite the slow progress, the reassessment exercise was on track, with the department continuing to issue 11,000 letter per week notifying claimants that their assessment was forthcoming.