Thursday, 1 August 2013

DWP plans for "Residential Training" for Disabled and Unemployed- Work or Workfare?

Today among the usual twitter news stories was tucked away a July 2013 report from the DWP entitled "Residential Training Provision - Independent Advisory Panel Report"- link here

The report focusses on helping disabled and those unemployed people where all other help has failed previously, to attend a Residential College and do courses that will have a near positive outcome of getting each individual back into work.

Sounds a good idea? In theory it is! But then when reading through the report it is striking that there are no residential colleges available to attend in the North West, Wales and Scotland. So would the disabled and unemployed from these areas be shipped to colleges far from home? This was my first concern.Secondly I wanted to know who the target group actually is. Obviously the DWP cannot send every disabled person and long term unemployed person to a residential college so who are these people the DWP wants to target? The DWP state
  • The newly disabled
  • A significant change in the level or impact of their impairment within the past 3 years
  • A substantial gap in skills and experience needed for realistically available employment.

The DWP also say that those attending the colleges would need to demonstrate:
  • A commitment to achieving employment
  • A background level of skills and experience to achieve employment within 12 months
  • The ability to benefit extensively from the programme

So the DWP is willing to send disabled and unemployed to these residential colleges to do courses to enable them to find work? Sounds good to me. But surely the cost of implementing such a programme will be huge? Correct! This whole scheme could cost in the region of £18 million +. And then there are the "partnerships" needed to run the scheme. Who are these partners? After all we have already seen the partners like ATOS running medical assessments and seen what they have done and their level of skill! The DWP seem to want to work with a "range of current providers" including "employers, support agencies and others". Rather vague at present!

One of the main concerns doing the rounds on twitter is the point blank obvious. The DWP do not have a high degree of trust in the disabled community given their past record. Will there be an element of compulsion? Will there be sanctions if you do not wish to attend? The answer appears to be "No" for both those questions. However, given the unemployed are already subject to sanctions and compulsion, and the disabled found fit for work by ATOS are having benefits stopped or face sanctions, people simply do not trust the DWP to progress to a stage where an element of compulsion creeps in. All we can do is watch this space.. carefully.

As a mum of a teenage son with autism, my concern would be the progression to 16 whereby our children are classed as adults under the auspices of the DWP. I certainly would not want my 16 year old having to attend a compulsory placement at a residential college. Given we live in Wales and with none of these collees based in Wales or the NW, this could involve a big move away from home. Again I will watch to see what happens next.

One of the recommendations in the report is telling. Recommendation 12 says:

"DWP should encourage Residential Training Providers to align themselves with other employment provision such as Work Choice and the Work Programme..."

Work Programme. Not such a giant leap to Workfare. This is what makes me personally so wary of what the OUTCOME will be once the course is completed. is that all the disabled and unemployed can hope for perhaps? A compulsory shelf stacking 30 hour+ week on workfare in a supermarket taking home your £71 for 6+ months? I'd rather hope if the disabled and unemployed did these residential courses the outcome of it would be rather more than Workfare.

Read the 43 page report. Nothing in stone yet but colleges are all identified. My opinion is: IF and its a huge IF the DWP guarantee NO compulsion, NO sanctions for refusing and of course colleges in the NW, Wales and Scotland then these reisdential colleges could prove valuable to those able to work if disabled and to those unemployed who need more intensive help. Also if they are then able to move to jobs on a Living Wage then fine.

However we are talking of Iain Duncan Smith, Mark Hoban and Esther Mcvey whose track record in supporting the disabled is up there on the biggest list of whoppers ever told! Let's just say there are many of us looking at this "Residential Training" with interest.