Ambitious plans aimed to get one million more disabled people in work over the next 10 years have been set out today (30 November) by ministers.

The government will help to get more disabled people into work in the next decade, the Prime Minister said today, as a new strategy is launched to break down employment barriers.

Working with industry, government will be taking further steps to help disabled people and people with health conditions get into work, and remain and progress in their roles.

These include new measures such as widening ‘fit note’ certification and providing dedicated training for work coaches to support people with mental health conditions.

The UK has near record high employment levels with over 32 million people in work, including 600,000 more disabled people in the last 4 years alone. However, ill health that keeps people out of work costs the economy an estimated £100 billion a year, including £7 billion in costs to the NHS. The government is committed to not only getting people into work, but helping them to remain and progress so they can reap the rewards of having a job.

Following the publication of "Improving Lives: the Future of Work, Health and Disability", the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) welcomes the government’s focus on helping more people with mental health conditions, learning disabilities and muscular skeletal conditions move into and stay in work. However, it is concerning that the vast majority of jobseekers with disabilities and health conditions will remain in the Jobcentre Plus (JCP) system without the specialist support they need.

The Work and Health Programme, mentioned in today’s paper, is designed as a tailored, localised support service for jobseekers with disabilities and health conditions. The programme is very small, however, and only one in eight disabled people who want to work will have specialist help to do so.

An independent report by the Westminster Policy Institute (WPI) for ERSA "More Words - Rethinking Employment Support for Disabled Jobseekers" showed the government is planning to spend a massive 80% less on specialist employment support programmes, meaning that 45,000 fewer disabled people will access specialist support in every remaining year of this Parliament. According to the report, doubling the programme's resources would give an extra 160,000 disabled people access to appropriate support and bring Exchequer savings of £280 million.

Learning and Work Institute’s comment on the disability and health employment strategy released today:

It’s great to see the government’s continued commitment to this agenda.  Our research has found that just one in ten disabled people who are out of work are able to access employment support, and too many people with health conditions who are in work struggle to get the right help to stay there.  This strategy sets out some welcome and positive steps and we look forward to continuing to work with government on taking them forward.  However while today’s announcements are welcome, the government has ducked making some big decisions that could lead to big impacts – for example on investment in services, public service reform, the benefits system and the role of employers.  There is still more to do.

Kirsty Mchugh, Chief Executive of ERSA, said:

Jobseekers with disabilities and health conditions need tailored, localised support to move towards and into work. The size of the new Work and Health Programme means only one in eight disabled people who want to work will have specialist help to do so. The Government must reverse its 80% reduction in funding and provide more of the specialist employment services which help people with disabilities and health conditions to move into work. 

It is right that the government trials new initiatives and gathers evidence of what works. The government must continue its work with ERSA and New Philanthropy Capital to bring its Employment Datalab to light, to provide evidence from the thousands of frontline initiatives already supporting people into work every day. We must ensure that the government’s trials do not try to reinvent the wheels already turning in communities across the UK.

With the right funding, good quality frontline provision can provide help to more disabled jobseekers. I look forward to working with the government to ensure the best of these services can be available to more jobseekers with disabilities and health conditions.

The Prime Minister said:

The path a person takes in life and in work should not be dictated by their disability or health condition. Everyone deserves the chance to find a job that’s right for them.

I am committed to tackling the injustices facing disabled people who want to work, so that everyone can go as far as their talents will take them.

We recognise the hugely positive impact that working can have on people’s health and wellbeing, which is why we are determined to break down the barriers to employment facing disabled people.

This strategy sets out how government, employers and the health service will work together to get more disabled people into employment, and help shift the attitude of business and society to disability.

This is part of building a country that is fit for the future and creating a fairer society, one that will make sure everyone can reach their potential.

The strategy, ‘Improving Lives: the Future of Work, Health and Disability’, was announced in response to the governments Work, health and disability green paper consultation which closed earlier this year and received around 6,000 responses from stakeholders and the public, calling for a comprehensive change to the UK’s approach to disability employment.

It sets out how the government will work with employers, charities, healthcare providers and local authorities to break down employment barriers for disabled people and people with health conditions over the next 10 years. This will be delivered through in-work programmes, personalised financial and employment support, and specialist healthcare services to help more people go as far as their talents will take them.

It sets out the steps government will take to transform disability employment over the next decade and progress so far as we build a country fit for the future. This includes:

  1. Extending fit note certification beyond GPs to a wider group of healthcare professionals, including physiotherapists, psychiatrists and senior nurses, to better identify health conditions and treatments to help workers go back into their jobs faster. Fit notes are designed to help patients develop a return to work plan tailored to their individual needs.

  2. Conducting large-scale employment research pilots in West Midlands and Sheffield which will include over 11,000 people. This research will gather evidence to help improve services for those with health conditions, supporting them get into and stay in work, and helping make sure services are accessible and inclusive for all.

  3. 2,000 work coaches have received training since 2015 to help them work with benefit claimants with mental health conditions. The government is committed to building on this with the introduction of an enhanced training offer developed with a national mental health charity.

  4. £39 million investment to more than double the number of employment advisors in an existing NHS programme treating people with depression and anxiety disorders.

  5. Responding in full to the 40 recommendations of the Stevenson/Farmer Review of mental health and employers – including reforming Statutory Sick Pay, improving advice and support for employers and encouraging transparency. The government is also encouraging other employers to take forward these recommendations.

  6. Over 5,000 companies have signed up to the Disability Confident scheme to promote disability inclusion and government is encouraging more companies to sign up.

  7. Appointing an Expert Working Group on Occupational Health to champion, shape and drive a programme of work to take an in-depth look at the sector.

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke said:

Everyone should be able to go as far as their talents can take them, but for too long disabled people and people with health conditions have been held back from getting on in work.

Today we’ve set out an ambitious 10-year strategy to end this injustice once and for all. By bringing employers, the welfare system and health services together we’re taking significant steps to ensure everyone can reach their potential.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

Mental ill health can affect anyone, from any walk of life at any time. For too long society has dictated that people with physical and mental health issues or a disability are a burden. Ensuring that more people with disabilities or long-term health conditions can get into and stay in work would not only enhance their lives, but actually enrich our economy too.

This strategy will help shape the future for hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities and mental health issues as we continue to tackle the stigma that so many people face when trying to get into and progress in work.

Two new employment trials will also be launched in the West Midlands and Sheffield City Region combined authorities to provide employment support. The government is also investing around £39 million to more than double the number of Employment Advisors in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies services.

Meanwhile, all 40 recommendations of the recent Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers are to be taken forward by the government. This includes establishing a framework for large employers to voluntarily report on mental health and disability within their organisations. Employers are a central part of plans, and encouragingly over 5,000 companies of all sizes have now signed up to the Disability Confident scheme to promote disability inclusion.

Sarah Kaiser, Fujitsu’s Diversity and Inclusion lead, said:

It is fantastic to see the Government is committing to seeing more disabled people enter the workplace. Fujitsu has significantly benefited from being Disability Confident, giving us access to untapped pools of talent and enabling us to increase our retention of employees with disabilities.

We have also worked with our employees with disabilities to ensure our products and services become even more accessible, benefitting our customers too. This is not just the right thing for employees, but also significantly helps the employer.

Creating an environment where employees feel comfortable to be completely themselves and tell us if they have a disability allows us to put in place the right adjustments to properly enable them to do their work, whilst providing a working environment that emphasises support. This not only results in increased employee satisfaction but also performance, realising value for the organisation too.

The government’s new Work and Health Programme to help disabled people into employment started this week in north west England and Wales.

The entire programme is expected to provide specialised support to around 245,000 people with disabilities or health conditions, and also people who have been unemployed for over 2 years.

Participants will get personal support to help them find sustained employment. The support may include:

  • identification of employment needs
  • matching skills to work that’s available
  • putting participants in touch with employers
  • managing health problems to reduce their impact on work

Five providers across 6 regions in England and Wales will deliver Work and Health Programme. The programme will roll out across the rest of England during early 2018.

Around £100 million of funding has been devolved to London and Greater Manchester to procure and deliver localised versions of the programme from 2018 to capitalise on the local knowledge, good practice and expertise of these areas. Participation on the programme will be voluntary for disabled people and specified early entry groups.

Also announced today are the next steps for the Fit for Work service. Its assessment services will come to an end in England and Wales on 31 March 2018 and 31 May 2018 in Scotland, following low referral rates.

Employers, employees and GPs will continue to be able to use the same Fit for Work helpline, website and web chat, which offer general health and work advice as well as support on sickness absence. An ‘Expert Working Group on Occupational Health’ has been appointed to champion, shape and drive a programme of work to take an in-depth look at the sector.

In the last year, the government has taken decisive steps to support people with disabilities and health conditions, including:

  • Introduced the Personal Support Package, which includes £330 million of funding over 4 years.

*Ending re-assessments for claimants with the most severe lifelong disabilities, illnesses or health conditions on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit.

  • Recruiting hundreds of additional Disability Employment Advisers and new Community Partners to bring specialist advice and support into the jobcentres.

  • Introducing a new ‘Health and Work Conversation’ between people on ESA and their work coach, focusing on what they can do rather than what they cannot.

  • Launching the Disability Confident Business Leaders Group, which helps to drive continued employer engagement through effective leadership and peer-to-peer support.

  • A trial voluntary work experience programme for young people with limited capability for work. This will enable young people to benefit from time in the workplace with a mainstream employer to build their confidence and skills, enhance their CV and demonstrate their ability to perform a job role.

  • Extending ‘Journey to Employment’ job clubs to 71 Jobcentre Plus areas with the highest number of people receiving ESA.

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