Subsidies for taking on unemployed youths do not extend to a programme for the disabled

A programme for disabled people has been excluded from a government scheme to reduce youth unemployment, leading to accusations of discrimination.

The mistake is an embarrassment for Nick Clegg, who last month launched the Youth Contract, the Coalition's £1bn centrepiece policy to reduce youth unemployment. Under the scheme, 160,000 wage subsidies worth up to £2,275 will be offered to employers who recruit 18- to 24-year-olds claiming benefits and retain them for six months.

However, the subsidies will not be extended to Work Choice, a separate programme designed specifically for people with learning, mental health and physical disabilities. The British Association for Supported Employment (Base) and the Employment Related Services Association (Ersa) have written a joint letter to Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, requesting that the Work Choice programme be included.

Ersa's chief executive Kirsty McHugh said: "It was a major oversight by the Government not to include young disabled jobseekers in the Youth Contract. It is completely inequitable that an employer wanting to take on a young person though Work Choice cannot attract a wage subsidy."

Huw Davies, chief executive of Base, said: "It strikes me as totally discriminatory. It does not make any sense at all. If you have a disability you may find it harder to find work. You do not need ministers making it even harder for you with a wage subsidy [for other people]."

A spokesman for the DWP said: "Disabled people can already access the wage incentive through the Work Programme, the same as everyone else. They are also given options about what is the best employment support available to them. The wage incentive was introduced last month and we have not ruled out extending this to cover other specialist employment programmes such as Work Choice."

Work Choice was launched in October 2010, replacing a range of more than 200 separate contracts for specialist disability programmes. But it was conceived by the previous government and has effectively been dwarfed by the much larger Work Programme, launched in June 2011.

Around two-thirds of Work Choice provision is delivered by the Shaw Trust charity. The largest proportion of its clients suffer from learning and development disabilities (25 per cent), mental health issues (21 per cent) and physical disabilities (21 per cent). Forty per cent are under 30. The charity said that 2010-11 figures show there are 86,000 young disabled unemployed people in the UK – meaning that nearly one in 10 young unemployed people are disabled.