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Councils urge DWP to go ‘further and faster’ with devolving WHP

The LGA has urged the government to devolve responsibility for the new Work and Health Programme (WHP) further and faster across the country to help thousands of disadvantaged and disabled jobseekers into work.

The association said the WHP, due to start in 2018 in London, Greater Manchester and other selected areas, should be accessible by more than a handful of local councils to enable them to provide a full range of support for claimants including health services, skills training and job advice.

The WHP follows on from the previous coalition government’s £600m-a-year Work Programme, under which only one in five of the most disadvantaged JSA and ESA claimants secured a job after two years.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA's People and Places Board, said: “The government should recognise that employment support alone is not the answer to help those furthest from the jobs market.

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

At present, the WHP will have only a fifth of the funding (£130m) of its predecessor, with six contractors responsible for delivering it across all of England and Wales. This has led council leaders to fear that either too few jobseekers will be supported by the programme or that they will receive insufficient support – particularly disabled people whose present level of support would not be maintained.

The LGA also believes that such large contracts will fail to distinguish between the economic and social characteristics of local areas, frustrating councils and employment providers who are better equipped to tackle the unique challenges in their region.

The association has, therefore, made a submission to the Treasury ahead of the Autumn Statement which requests the allowance of flexibility for councils to connect employment support with the expertise of local services, along with an increased budget.

Cllr Hawthorne explained that the LGA made its own proposal to the government for a devolved employed support to replace the Work Programme, which it believed would benefit residents more than a traditional centrally-controlled system.

“Together with the government, we consulted councils on how the WHP should work,” he said. “The clear message was that to be successful it will need to integrate local services, job centres must be required to work with councils and local partners so the right people are supported, and the right locally based contractors are used.

“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.”

(Image c. Rui Vieira and PA Wire)

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