The Government must take urgent action to tackle the backlog of Work Capability Assessments (WCAs), which are essential in the effort to get more ill and disabled people into employment under the Work Programme, a welfare-to-work group has claimed.
According to the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), the trade body for the welfare-to-work industry, the number of assessments being processed has fallen significantly below the Government's projected figures.
A Freedom of Information request found that 56,000 WCAs had been carried out since they were rolled out nationally in April 2011, a fraction of the figure that might be expected given the Government's projection of 11,000 assessments per week.
WCAs are the main assessment for people wishing to obtain Employment and Support Allowance, which gives personalised support and financial help to those with illnesses or disabilities that affect their ability to work. The aim is to help them gain employment should they be able to do so.
The ERSA also claims that voluntary sector providers may have been "disproportionately disadvantaged" by the low numbers of people on Employment Support Allowance who have been referred to the Work Programme.
Kirsty McHugh, ERSA chief executive, commented: "It is vital that people in need of specialist employment services receive them. It is unacceptable that the delay in carrying out Work Capability Assessments means that some of the people who need the most help are not being referred to the Work Programme in a timely matter.
"This is a particularly significant issue for ERSA voluntary sector members, who often provide this type of specialist employment support."
For more information, view our analysis on whether or not the Work Programme is the right way to get the long-term unemployed into jobs.