DCSIMG

Flagship Government scheme ‘fails disabled people’

TRUTH: Melanie Close is Chief Executive of Disability Equality North West

TRUTH: Melanie Close is Chief Executive of Disability Equality North West

A flagship scheme aimed at getting disabled people back in to work is failing, a charity has claimed.

It comes after figures showed more than 2,000 disabled people in Central Lancashire have been placed on the Government’s Work Programme between June 2011 and September 2013 - but just 150 got jobs.

The aim of the programme was to support benefits claimants who need more help looking and staying in work.

Critics of the scheme say the figures don’t come as a surprise, while supporters argue it can be a lengthy process to help people who have been out of employment for a long time get back in to work.

In Preston, 1,420 disabled people went on the programme and 100 got jobs.

In South Ribble 410 went on the programme and 30 got jobs and in Preston North and Wyre 230 disabled people were placed on the programme and 20 got jobs.

In Preston one of the main providers of the scheme is Ingeus, which supports people on the programme and helps them to find work.

The company said it has had more than 300 people start work but the official statistics are based on people who have been in work for six months.

Jane Brade, Ingeus’s operations manager for the North West, said: 
“Ingeus has supported 328 people in Preston with long-term health conditions back to work.

“Through the Work Programme we provide tailored and innovative support to people with long-term health conditions over two years, as we know there are often complex barriers to getting people back into work.

“Our team of experts continues to work with those clients who joined us on the programme more recently and our service includes one-to-one support from a personal Employment Advisor and our specialist Health and Wellbeing team consisting of Mental and Physical Health Advisors, Psychologists and Physiotherapists, as well as access to our many expert local partners. Once in-work, our clients can continue to access our support for two years.”

However Melanie Close, chief officer at Disability Equality North West, said: “The figures speak for themselves.”

The Preston-based charity doesn’t run the Work Programme but Melanie believes the organisation’s own programme to help people find both volunteer and paid work is more successful.

She said: “What happens is somebody is found fit for work which is a shock to them then are sent on a work programme and it is not meeting their individual needs. Having a minor learning disability is not the same as a spinal injury.

“I know categorically what happens, is people just get put onto a programme, they don’t buy into it at all. It is not tailored to their needs. It’s about targets. They all have government targets to reach.”

There has been national criticism of the scheme ever since it was launched with fears that the programme doesn’t meet disabled people’s needs.

Robert Trotter public policy advisor at the disability charity Scope, said: “The Work Programme needs to get much better at supporting disabled people into work.

“It’s been known for some time that it continues to fail those who are furthest away from getting a job.

“Now, we also need to make sure that as the economy picks up disabled people are not left behind.

“Disabled people are pushing hard to get jobs and get on in the workplace. Nine in ten disabled people work or have worked. Yet only about 50 per cent of disabled people have a job right now.

“If the Government is serious about disabled people moving off benefits and into work it needs to ensure disabled people get the specialist, tailored and flexible support they need to find and keep a job.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Increasing numbers of people at risk of long-term unemployment are finding lasting jobs thanks to the Work Programme, a key part of the Government’s long term economic plan to get people off benefits and into work.

“With a record 30 million people now in work, we are determined to do everything we can to support those people who are hardest to help into work, and that is what the Work Programme is designed to do.”

CASE STUDY

Claire Akers, 46, from Tanterton, found a full time job with the help of The Work Programme. She told SARAH FIELDEN about her experience on the programme.

“I came off work in 2010 - we thought I had either had a stroke or had a brain tumour,” says Claire, “I didn’t - it was just chronic migraine they figured out.

“The doctor said it was a build up of taking too many pain killers over the years.

Claire worked in the Early Learning Centre for about 11 years, but then had to stop work in 2010 through her illness.

“From then on it was just a case of me getting better and getting myself back to what I knew I could be.”

Claire had been on Employment Support Allowance, and said she was nervous at first about going to Ingeus and didn’t know what to expect.

She said: “I had two wonderful advisers. I’ve had group sessions of doing different things and getting you to think about possibly having a job, and there were health sessions.

“But if a session wasn’t for you they didn’t force you to go to it.

“They were always thinking of you and what you needed and they didn’t push you too far.

Claire was with them for two years, and received help to put together a CV and write speculative letters.

They also helped with paying for transport, and for clothes for interviews.

She now works full time Monday to Friday, getting books ready to go to libraries by putting stickers on the spines and plastic covers on them.

She said: “I think the project works. It did help that I had two advisers that I got on well with.

“I’ve had nothing but help all along the way and encouragement. But I don’t how other people have found it. Possibly it isn’t for everybody.

“I think it just gave me the bit of a push to go and look for a job and get myself better.

“I didn’t want to stay on benefits for the rest of my life.

“But I do think the government is trying to get people back to work who aren’t fit to have a job.

“They keep changing the requirements and they keep changing the forms and I think the system is completely wrong.

“I think there are some people who play the system, but there are a lot of people who are genuinely ill.

“But it was the right step for me to get a job and move forward.”

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