Background to the report

Some 7.6 million working-age people in the UK identify as disabled. Although the number of disabled people who are employed is rising, disability and long-term health problems continue to be associated with greater poverty, lower educational attainment and reduced access to work. Only 51.5% of disabled people are in work, compared with around 81.7% of non-disabled people. Some disabled people – including those with some mental health conditions and learning disabilities – are even less likely to be in work. The government believes people who want to work should be supported to do so. It also recognises that some disabled people are less likely to be able to work and that it would not be appropriate to expect everyone who is found less fit for work to seek employment.

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In 2017, the government set a goal to see 1 million more disabled people in work in the 10 years to 2027. The Department for Work & Pensions (the Department) and the Department of Health & Social Care also produced a command paper, Improving Lives, to support this. This set out activity across health, welfare, employment and wider partnership settings. The government considers that helping people into work will benefit them through increased income, better life chances and better health, and that this will save public money.  

Content and scope of the report

This report is about the Department’s support to help disabled people overcome barriers to work. It examines the Department’s:

  • strategy, working across government, for supporting disabled people to work, and what is currently being achieved (Part One);
  • employment support programmes for disabled people and its approach to developing the evidence base (Part Two); and
  • efforts to improve the way it engages with disabled people in jobcentres (Part Three).

We do not cover how disabled people access, or are incentivised to work by, the benefit system. We published our latest report on contracted-out health and disability assessments in January 2016.  

Report conclusions

The Department has recognised that it does not understand enough to frame a full implementation strategy for helping more disabled people to work. It is positive that it is making an effort to improve disabled people’s experience when they enter a jobcentre. It is also positive that it is starting to work more closely with the Department of Health & Social Care to improve the evidence base of what works. And it is positive that there has been recent growth in the number of disabled people in work. However, neither we nor the Department can tell how much of the improvement is a function of changes in how people already in work report disability, ‘all boats rising with the tide’ of high employment, or its actions to support more disabled people to work.

Given the Department has had programmes in place to support disabled people for over half a century, it is disappointing that it is not further ahead in knowing what works and that it lacks a target that it is willing to be held to account for. While the commitment to gathering evidence is welcome, until it has a clear understanding of what works, and a plan to use that evidence, it is not possible to say the Department is achieving value for money.

“I welcome the Department for Work and Pensions’ renewed commitment to focus on improving the culture of its job centres and its evidence base. But, with that said, given it has been supporting disabled people to work for a long time, it is not beyond reason to expect the Department to know ‘what works’ by now and it is disappointing that it does not. It has yet to make a significant dent in the number of disabled people who are out of work, some of whom say they would like to work given the right support.”

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO


Publication details

Press release

View press release (28 Mar 2019)

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