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Education and Employment

New scheme empowers persons with disabilities in the workforce

businesswoman in wheelchair going through reports while working female coworker in the office.

A pilot scheme for disabled people and people with health conditions to explore barriers to work will be rolled out to 12 new areas as part of the next generation of welfare reforms being introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). 

The government is taking long-term decisions to reform the welfare system so it better supports disabled people and people with long-term conditions into work, growing the economy and changing lives.

Today’s announcement marks the next step in this agenda, with thousands more out of work benefit claimants set to receive additional support to chart a path back to work with an employment and health practitioner.

Under the new initiative, the claimants and health practitioners develop a ‘work ability plan’ over a one-hour conversation, identifying barriers to employment and actions and support to overcome them. The plan is then shared with their work coach to continue support to overcome their barriers and move them towards work.

It means health claimants can highlight and begin to overcome any work barriers prior to undergoing a Work Capability Assessment, potentially realising a job outcome sooner.

As committed to in the White Paper, following a successful trial in Leeds which has helped hundreds of people move towards work, Employment and Health Discussions will now be expanded to 12 additional sites across England and Wales.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Mel Stride MP said: We are pushing ahead with the next generation of welfare reforms to ensure benefit claimants get as much support as soon as possible to move towards work and the more prosperous life that brings.

This pilot is an important part of that, helping people understand what they need to do to move towards employment through a simple and effective conversation. The findings will help us build the new disability benefits system once the Work Capability Assessment is removed later this decade.

Minister for Disabled People Tom Pursglove MP said: We know that many people eager to return or start work face complicated barriers to making this a reality. Having an initial conversation with a supportive health professional can have a hugely positive influence on their confidence and help set them on the journey to sustainable employment.

These voluntary discussions will offer new avenues to many people who are keen to enter the workplace and transform lives for the better.

The DWP is expanding this model to a dozen new sites following the success of the Leeds pilot, which was launched in May 2022 and has seen hundreds of conversations supporting claimants towards work.

Building on this, the expanded pilot seeks to help benefit claimants with health conditions to understand better how they could find a path towards employment. The discussions typically involve a one-hour conversation where a ‘work ability plan’ is developed between the practitioner and claimant.

This plan involves identifying how the claimant’s health interacts with their work and how to address these barriers, including signposting to further support to help them self-manage any problems. When a personalised plan is finalised, the details are shared with a work coach who then helps move them towards long-term employment.

Initial feedback from those involved in the Leeds pilot showed that most claimants were able to understand their own health better, which in turn allowed them to communicate this better with others, including their Work Coach and potential employers.

Many also felt more confident about what they are able to do, and how to overcome barriers they face – making them more inclined to take further steps towards the labour market. This pilot therefore represents a first step to help claimants understand where employment support is and how to access it.

Other help includes Universal Support, an employment programme which will ramp up to support at least 50,000 people a year from 2025 to 2026. The latest phase of this programme, backed by £53 million, began across the country in September to provide personalised support to help more people with complex barriers into work with ‘on the job’ support.

And with one in five health and disability claimants across the country assessed as having limited capability for work-related activity wanting to work with the right support, the government is also consulting on changes to the Work Capability Assessment. These proposals reflect increased Government support and the rise of flexible and home working and better employer support for disabled people and people with health conditions.

The proposals will help these claimants access support whilst forming a bridge to the eventual removal of the assessment, which will complete a reframing of the disability benefits system.

The DWP will therefore use the findings from the expanded Employment and Health Discussions pilot in the longer-term to inform the structure of the wider benefits system once the Work Capability Assessment is removed, focusing on what disabled people and people with health conditions can do, rather than what they can’t.

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