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31.08.16

Calls for Work and Health programme to be devolved

A new benefits claimants’ support scheme must be fully devolved to local councils in order to stop it from repeating the mistakes of its predecessor, the LGA has said.

The Work and Health Programme, intended to help benefits claimants with disabilities and long-term health conditions find jobs, will replace the Work Programme next year.

The DWP is trialling co-commissioning of the programme in 10 pilot areas, but will otherwise retain control of it.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, chair of the LGA’s people and places board, said: “The government needs to recognise that employment support alone is not the answer to help those furthest from the jobs market.

“The LGA has put forward its own proposal to the government for a devolved, integrated employment support to replace the Work Programme, which we believe will deliver better outcomes for residents than the traditional Whitehall centrally controlled approach.

“Councils are committed to ensure no-one is left behind, but they simply cannot afford to pick up the local costs of long-term unemployment. The time has come for local government to be given the opportunity to improve performance by commissioning employment support from 2017.

“The Government will spend £10.5 billion this year on 20 national employment and skills schemes. It can also no longer afford to spend billions on separate national programmes when there are better more local solutions that can coordinate all local partners in a way which can most appropriately help those most in need of support.”

Recent research from IPPR North showed that just 28% of Work Programme participants found work, and the rate was even lower amongst those with the most serious conditions.

The Public Accounts Committee found in 2014 that the companies delivering the Work Programme had spent less than half of what they promised on supporting harder-to-help claimants.

Despite this, the Work and Health Programme is to be delivered with a £130m budget, just one-fifth of that given to the Work Programme, despite IPPR North saying that even the Work Programme’s budget was insufficient.

Cllr Hawthorne said that a consultation between the LGA and councils had found that the Work and Health Programme should be delivered by joined-up local services, in partnership with local jobcentres and businesses.

The LGA proposed a devolution scheme where groups of councils and the government set targets for local areas, but individual councils take responsibility for the scheme.

Local government would keep the money saved from national benefits spending to spend on services. Cllr Nick Forbes, senior vice chair of the LGA, said: “The Work and Health Programme can be successfully managed in all local areas across England.

“Helping more ESA and long-term JSA claimants move into employment is crucial to boosting local growth and reducing the welfare bill. Councils know best how to do this. We know our local economies, we know our local employers and we know our residents and we can bring local services together in a way central government will never be able to.”

Concerns were also raised about the future of the programme following the UK’s vote to leave the EU. Manchester city council warned recently that it may lose £20m of funding from the European Social Fund intended to support the programme.

The LGA also called for a guarantee that councils will receive all planned EU funds for the unemployed up to 2020. Cllr Forbes added: “Without this funding, support for the most disadvantaged areas risks being decimated.”

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