Senior civil servants criticised the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for failing to invest enough money in its employment programme for disabled people, it has been claimed.
Disability Alliance (DA), the disability poverty charity, said Cabinet Office civil servants believed the failure to spend enough money on the Pathways to Work programme caused its disappointing results.
DA’s comments came as a report by the public spending watchdog concluded that Pathways had proved “poor value for money”.
Early results from the Pathways pilots that began in 2003 were positive, but the National Audit Office (NAO) said the scheme had had a “limited impact” in reducing the number of people receiving incapacity benefits once it was rolled out across the country.
The report concludes that the voluntary aspects of the support offered through Pathways – much of it provided by the private and voluntary sector – appeared to have had “no impact”, with new claimants just as likely to find a job without it.
The number of people claiming incapacity benefits – including incapacity benefit, income support on the grounds of disability, and the new employment and support allowance (ESA) – has fallen slightly in recent years, but has remained at more than 2.5 million for over a decade.
The NAO report – Support to Incapacity Benefits Claimants through Pathways to Work – says the contribution of Pathways to a fall of 125,000 between February 2005 and August 2009 was probably “modest”.
It concludes that it was probably the prospect of compulsory work-focused interviews and earlier medical assessments that caused the fall, while the employment support provided through Pathways appears to have had no impact on the number of disabled people finding work.
The report also suggests that the introduction of the new, tougher work capability assessment – set to be gradually rolled out to all old-style incapacity benefit claimants from this autumn – was likely to be a “key instrument” in reducing the number of claimants.
The report also concludes that the voluntary and private sector Pathways providers “consistently underperformed” against their targets.
The new coalition government is planning to scrap all of Labour’s work programmes – including Pathways – and replace them with one single welfare-to-work programme.
But Neil Coyle, director of policy for DA, said it was clear from discussions with the DWP and Cabinet Office that there was a “belief among senior civil servants that Pathways was under-funded”.
He said the Cabinet Office believed that if Pathways had been “fully resourced to meet the needs of disabled people…it may have been as successful as the pilots indicated it could be”.
Coyle said Pathways had helped disabled people who needed dedicated support to find the right job, and DA was concerned that the criticism of Pathways was not being matched by efforts to provide the support disabled people needed to “level the playing field”.
In a prepared statement, the Conservative employment minister Chris Grayling said: “It’s clear that the welfare to work programmes developed by the previous government have failed to deliver real change for people trapped in benefit dependency.
“The new administration will develop a national work programme designed to transform welfare-to-work in Britain for all benefit claimants.”
When asked whether there had been criticism of the DWP by the Cabinet Office, both the DWP and the Cabinet Office referred Disability News Service to Grayling’s prepared statement.