Disability rights campaigners claim welfare-to-work firms will ignore disabled

The government’s much heralded welfare reforms could damage disabled people’s chances of finding work, leading campaigners have warned.

The British Association for Supported Employment (BASE) has written to work and pensions secretary James Purnell expressing fears that welfare-to-work firms will be discouraged from finding jobs for disabled people by the reforms announced last month.

Under the new commissioning structure, private and voluntary sector specialists will be able to bid for about £1bn-worth of five-year state contracts to find work for the long-term unemployed.

BASE chairman Huw Davies believes this will see firms focus all their energy on the easiest-to-help people to keep costs down – leaving those with more intensive needs out in the cold.

“Companies will want to make profit, they will cherry-pick the easiest individuals, and we think that will drive specialist providers out of business,” he told Personnel Today.

The recent demise of welfare-to-work providers Carter & Carter and Instant Muscle showed just how tight the margins are in this field, said Davies.

“If they are both going into administration, it says something about the risks they are taking in tendering at low profit margins,” he said. “The competition means organisations will not resource the services that are needed to help disabled people move into employment.”

Davies has asked Purnell to meet with him as a matter of urgency to discuss these concerns. He has also called on employers to complain.

“Employers will lose out under this system,” he said. “There is a business case for employing people from a diverse background and people with an understanding of disabilities.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman rejected claims that disabled people would be sidelined, adding that the commissioning strategy would reward organisations from all sectors that were best placed to provide work for the long-term unemployed.

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