by Andy Bell

This week a major new report from Disability Rights UK has highlighted the weaknesses of the government’s major employment programmes in supporting disabled people to get and keep paid work.

The report, Taking Control of Employment Support, looked at the experiences of disabled people of the Work Programme and Work Choice. It found that neither scheme was achieving employment outcomes for any more than a small minority of disabled people. And people with mental health conditions were getting especially poor outcomes. The Work Choice scheme, for example, helped just 58 people with a mental health condition to get employment each year across Britain. This, it points out, is only a quarter of the paid work outcomes one London NHS trust has achieved by using the evidence-based Individual Placement and Support (IPS) approach.

As a briefing paper published by Centre for Mental Health noted last week, the IPS approach is by far the most effective means of supporting the one million or so people who use mental health services into paid work. And while a growing proportion of NHS trusts are now offering an IPS services to some or all of their users, too many people continue to be denied the opportunity to get work when they want it.

It is now crucial that every NHS funded mental health service offers an effective IPS service to anyone who could benefit from it. And we need to explore ways in which the Department for Work and Pensions’ work programmes can be better aligned with health and social care employment services. This could have far-reaching ramifications for the welfare-to-work system. Putting the principles of IPS into practice in the welfare system will mean re-thinking the way people are assessed for their ‘work capability’, re-considering the use of conditionality, and looking again at how health and employment services are commissioned to bring down the barriers that currently make cooperation between them extremely difficult.

The benefits of IPS have been evident for a long time. The NHS and local authorities are beginning to recognise the importance of adopting this approach in the way they help people with mental health conditions (and other needs) into employment. We now need to be bolder and test out ways of changing the whole system of employment support to give more disabled people a better chance of achieving their potential through paid work.