Not only is work the most effective route out of poverty, but it also brings with it multiple other benefits, from improved health through to greater inclusion in wider society. For this reason, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has long championed the value of work, and welcomes the strides made in recent years to help more individuals into work. However, while employment rates have indeed risen across the board, disabled people continue to face exclusion from the labour market.

There are 7.7 million working age-disabled people in the UK today, of whom 53.6 per cent (4.1 million) are in work.1 This compares to an employment rate of 81.9  per  cent for working-age non-disabled people – meaning there is an employment gap of 28.2 per cent.

For certain health types, the numbers are even more concerning. Working-age people with learning disabilities in England have an employment rate of just 5.9 per cent. This is despite the fact that 65 per cent of people with learning disabilities want to work.

Governments have failed to help disabled people of all health needs into employment, but those with the most complex problems have been failed most profoundly. This is despite the fact that DWP investment in employment programmes over the past six years alone has come in at over £3 billion.

There are several reasons for this that we will consider through the course of this report. Perhaps the most concerning of all is that the government has adopted practices within its commissioning processes that have squeezed out organisations that offer specialist and local knowledge that could be a lifeline to helping vulnerable people into employment. Short-sighted and onerous funding models have also played their part, prohibiting smaller organisations from bidding for contracts, and encouraging gaming within the system. A national pan-disability approach has prevented essential, specialist support from going to those with acute sensory needs. Furthermore, inadequacies within the Jobcentre Plus network have generated deadweight in a system that is already stretched to capacity.

This has not only left the disabled population in Britain marginalised and unable to benefit from the many benefits of work, but it has also seen billions of pounds worth of taxpayers’ money wasted. This report seeks to unearth the deadweight in the system. It finds that a radical reassessment of the role of voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations in frontline disability employment delivery is crucial to the successful running of nationally contracted disability employment programmes. This can be achieved in a number of ways: through a more open and transparent commissioning process, greater devolution, social finance and a reconsideration of the role of the Jobcentre Plus.

This report is part one of a two-part series looking at disability employment. In part one, we consider the commissioning of nationally contracted provision. Part two will consider the quality of supported internships in helping people with learning disabilities into work.

Sign up to the CSJ mailing list to receive our regular newsletter,
the latest reports, and be the first to hear about our upcoming events.