The failure of the Work Programme to support more disabled people into employment has other serious consequences, says Ruth Patrick.
In his first party conference speech as work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith set out his ‘contract’ with the British people. Ushering in wide ranging and ambitious social security reforms, Duncan Smith promised his government would be the one to finally restore ‘fairness’ to the benefits system.
He said: “We will break down the barriers to work and ensure work pays. But in return, we have the right to insist that when work is available, you take that work and work hard to keep that job. For those who want to choose not to work, under this government, this will no longer be an option. We will work with you but you must work with us. That is our contract with the unemployed.”
In this way, Duncan Smith connected the responsibility to enter employment with the right to expect help to make the transition into employment, deploying a contractualist rhetoric to frame and present his argument.
Since then, this contractual premise has been repeatedly emphasised with Duncan Smith’s contract increasingly applying to all those disabled people who are now expected to take part in work-related activity or risk benefit sanctions. This includes all those disabled people in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of employment and support allowance (ESA) as well as the many thousands of people who identify as disabled but who the ESA system instead says are fit for work and therefore only entitled to jobseeker’s allowance.
But while disabled people are continually expected to keep their side of the ‘welfare contract’, a growing body of evidence suggests that the government is failing to do the same. Given the power differentials stacked in the government’s favour, disabled people reliant on benefits for all or most of their income have little choice but to continue to meet the work-related demands made of them, regardless of whether these are actually beneficial, suitable or appropriate.
Reports suggest that the Work Programme is simply not fit for purpose for disabled people with providers failing to follow through on the promise of innovative and personalised forms of support for people with high support needs and who face the greatest barriers to securing work...