The government has admitted that its new work programme, aimed at providing intensive support for those facing the highest employment barriers, will help far fewer disabled people than it previously suggested.
Launching Work Choice this week, the government said the voluntary programme would support 23,000 “severely disabled” people every year.
But in a written answer to Conservative MP Rehman Chishti, Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, said the government expected “around 79,000 people” to have access to Work Choice by 2015.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman admitted that “many customers” would be on the scheme for more than a year and so only an estimated 79,000 people would be helped, an annual average of less than 16,000 over five years.
On the day the government launched the scheme, Miller told a joint meeting of disability-related all party parliamentary groups that Work Choice would “deliver far simpler and far more effective support for severely disabled people”.
She said the programme would provide “pre-employment support for disabled people so they can get the best jobs they can do and post-employment support so they don’t just fall out of the job when things get a bit tough”.
Miller said the government wanted to give more than one million disabled people the support they needed to get off benefits and into work, through Work Choice and the new Work Programme.
But a series of speakers questioned where the government would find these jobs.
The disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson cast huge doubt on where the jobs would come from, because of the “underlying discrimination against disabled people trying to get into work”.
She said she knew of disabled people who were applying for 50 or 60 jobs and were “being turned away for a whole host of really bizarre reasons”, when “the real reason was that they are disabled”.
She said it was “really painful that these people are being targeted as scroungers when they absolutely, genuinely want to be in work”.
Tom Clarke MP, who chairs the all party parliamentary group on learning disability, told the minister that the jobs “just aren’t there” and for people with learning difficulties “that becomes an even bigger problem”, particularly because of the lack of advocacy.
Nigel Meager, director of the Institute for Employment Studies, also cast doubt on the government’s plans.
He said: “If the Labour government couldn’t achieve a significant reduction in the number of people on these benefits when the economy was booming, then the new government’s approach…may have to run very, very hard just to stand still.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com