Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported today that the Department for Work and Pensions provides an effective range of support that helps thousands of disabled people find employment each year. However more needs to be done to increase the number of people assisted into work and to help many of those disabled people already in the workplace retain their jobs. The Department should also review its contracts with training providers to achieve better quality and prices, and simplify the range of programmes and schemes in order to make it easier to communicate what is available to potential clients.
Almost 10 million people in Great Britain are disabled – around one in six of the population. In 2004, of the 6.7 million disabled people of working age 50 [Source calculation based on the formula from the 2002 Spending Review. This includes people with conditions consistent with the Disability Discrimination Act and/or those with a work limiting condition] per cent were in employment compared with 75 per cent of the working age population as a whole. Benefit payments to people with disabilities or health related problems cost £12 billion in 2003-04. There are 2.6 million incapacity benefit recipients who are either sick or disabled. Some disabled people will not be able to work but for those who can, having a job can have significant positive impacts including developing skills and confidence and providing a higher income. Around 125,000 people are involved in the Department’s specialist employment focused programmes for disabled people. The current annual expenditure on these programmes and schemes is approximately £300 million.
Advisers within Jobcentre Plus play a key role in assessing the level of support a disabled person needs and are responsible for guiding them to the most suitable support. Assistance ranges from help with confidence building, developing skills such as how to search for jobs and interview techniques, to covering the costs of adaptations to the workplace and extensive in-work support.
The report identifies what is working well. This includes that the Department has made good progress in helping many disabled people and is on course to meet its target for increasing the employment rate for disabled people. Jobcentre Plus has many committed and experienced staff to advise disabled people about which programme best suits their needs; and many of the clients participating in its programmes are positive about their impact.
At the same time there are areas where more progress is needed, including that the programmes support only a small number of the people who could potentially benefit, the Department needs better management information, and many Remploy factory businesses are currently not value-for-money.
The report recommends that the Department and programme providers should work together to implement recommendations which include:
- the Department should rationalise its suite of individual programmes to provide a more flexible modular approach that can be more easily tailored to individual needs. The Department’s specialist programmes and schemes have evolved over more than 60 years and support a broad spectrum of needs. Rationalisation would make it easier to explain to potential clients what is available.
- the Department needs to improve the quality of its management systems for programmes and schemes. The Department’s knowledge of what providers deliver is poor, largely because of the quality of management information collected. The Department has undertaken extensive analysis for New Deal for Disabled People but the analysis for the other programmes is at a very early stage More information, especially for Work Preparation and Workstep, would allow the Department to identify gaps in provision and helps ensure the support needed reaches this disparate client group.
- the Department should focus more resources on helping people stay in work and build upon the findings from current pilots. There is limited support available – except for Access to Work – to help disabled people in work to retain it where their conditions make this difficult. Greater support could reduce future demand on existing programmes and keep down expenditure on disability benefits;
- the Department should re-engineer the profile of Remploy businesses to improve overall value for money and ensure support is in place to help those individuals affected find alternative employment if necessary. Under current arrangements Remploy Ltd receives £115 million in block grant funding, of which £95 million is spent on its businesses, many of which are not currently sustainable in economic terms and are often in industries that are in decline. Remploy Interwork, the recruitment division of Remploy Ltd, offers better value for money than Remploy factories. Recent attempts by Remploy to develop newer employment opportunities such as CCTV operations are proving more successful and are more likely to be sustainable in the long term.
- the Department should achieve enhanced efficiency through better contracting. The National Audit Office suggest that the Department could improve the quality and price of the services it purchases through proper benchmarking, open competition and appropriate use of its power as a bulk purchaser. Currently, there is considerable variation in prices for similar activities or equipment across the country. The Department should do even more to improve the performance of its contractors and reduce the variations in prices for common items.