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Mental health and the Work Programme

Jenny Gulliford

30 November 2012

With the dust beginning to settle after the Work Programme’s first statistical release, we now have a bit of breathing space in which to drill deeper into the figures, particularly those regarding disability and mental health. (My blog on the headline figures is available here.)

Using the DWP’s tabulation tool we can see that of the individuals who are on the Work Programme and claiming a disability related out of work benefit, those who list mental health or behavioural disorder as their primary disability are by far the largest group, with 41,320 people (or just over 50% of this group) referred since the programme began in June 2011. Of these people, only 470 were placed in a job that meets the six or three month job outcome goal in the following 13 months, a placement rate of 1.1%. A shockingly low figure yes, but possibly explained by the fact that this group is particularly hard to help. The programme lasts two years, so we might see this number going up in the near future. The other 50%, those who have a physical disability or are listed as ‘other’, have a higher job outcome rate of 1.6%.

To put this in context, the overall job outcome rate for people claiming JSA (and not claiming a disability related out-of-work benefit) is 3.8%.

One of the worries about disability and employment in the Work Programme is that performance may not be consistent across providers. The Work Programme operates within something known as the ‘black box’ approach, where providers have only basic restrictions or guidelines regarding the activities they may undertake to support a person into work. This results in variation in the ways in which providers structure their provision, with the potential to create a situation in which some providers have better results than others in finding employment for certain groups, despite working in the same location and receiving a similar referral mix. The introduction of a shifting market share in March 2013 (as outlined on pg. 14 of the initial Invitation To Tender), in which new referrals will be moved to the provider in the Contract Package Area with the higher success rate for that benefit type, might go some way to prevent repercussions from this happening in the long term. However, this will only apply to new referrals and won’t help anyone who has been placed in the programme in the previous 21 months.

So, is it too soon to tell if this variance is taking place? As the numbers show, relatively few people with mental health as their primary disability have reached their job outcome goal of either three or six months. These small numbers mean it’s hard to make a reliable analysis at a local level of how different Work Programme providers are doing. However, there are several Contract Package Areas (CPAs) in which certain providers have been more successful in finding long term jobs for this group than others working in the same area, despite having a similar number of referrals. For example, in one CPA the difference between the two providers operating in the area was 1.25 percentage points. I should emphasise again, the numbers are small (both providers have had only around 1,500 people with mental health issues referred to them in the previous 13 months), so it’s hard to read too much into them as the results may be anomalous. However if this trend continues or becomes true across more CPAs we should be worried.

It goes without saying that overall job outcome figures need to get better. Monthly job outcomes for those with mental health issues are going up, which is good, but this increase needs to be sustained and improved, with providers insuring that they are giving those with mental health issues the specialist support they need. Considering that many charities, who are often best-placed to provide this specialised support, have reported having issues with the Work Programme, we should watch this space.

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