Devolve Work and Health Programme to councils

The Local Government Association (LGA) is urging the government to devolve responsibility for the new Work and Health Programme (WHP) to councils.

The LGA claims that thousands of disadvantaged jobseekers and people with disabilities would be bettie supported into work if funding was made locally. Due to start in 2018, the council leaders argue that ministers should learn the lessons from the Work Programme and allow councils control over WHP so that the UK can reduce the disability employment gap.

The £600 million a year Work Programme has seen only one in five of the most disadvantaged Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants secure a job after two years.

With WHP set to only receive £130 million of funding, there are warnings that too few jobseekers will be readily supported, with the Employment Related Services Association predicting that the reduced budget allocated for the WHP will severely reduce the number of disabled people who will receive support.

The government has granted flexibility to run WHP to only a handful of local areas. But the LGA believes that this needs to go further with local government trusted to join up employment support with local services. Current DWP plans mean that just six large contractors will deliver the programme across England and Wales.

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.

"To be successful it [WHP] 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.

"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."