There have been deep cuts to the numbers of full-time specialist disability employment advisors posted in Jobcentres, new figures obtained by the Independent can show.
Between 2011 and 2015 the number of Jobcentres employing a full-time advisor to help disabled people navigate the support system and find employment fell by over 60 per cent from 226 to just 90, with reductions in every recorded year.
Charities say the specialist advisors are crucial for people with disabilities who have to navigate the support system and that their reduction will undermine the Government’s own goal of getting people in to work.
But the Government is intent on reducing the numbers of disability advisors and instead wants disabled people to be dealt with by general non-specialist “work coaches” as part of its Universal Credit programme.
The cut to specialist employment support for people with disabilities comes despite Iain Duncan Smith telling the group they should be working their way out of poverty.
Elliot Dunster, group head of policy, research and public affairs at disability charity Scope, told the Independent the fall in specialist assistance was concerning.
“Disability employment advisors make a huge difference in supporting disabled people into work – providing expert, personalised advice and guidance,” he said.
“We’re very concerned to see this drop in the number of job centres that have fulltime specialist advisors for disabled people. Disabled people are pushing hard to find work, but continue to face huge barriers, ranging from inaccessible workplaces to employer attitudes.
“Disability employment advisors help tackle these barriers. The Government has set out a welcome ambition to halve the disability employment gap. To do this disabled people must have access to specialist, tailored employment support.”
Dan Scorer, head of policy at learning disabilities charity Mencap, warned that the replacement generalist advisors would "simply not have the training" required.
“People with a learning disability find the demands placed upon them difficult while claiming Job Seekers Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance," he told the Independent.
“Some find them impossible and we are worried that there is not the right support in Jobcentres to help them. Families tell us that a lack of learning disability training and cuts to DEAs is leading to many people with a learning disability being unfairly sanctioned and receiving insufficient support to appeal decisions, or the right support to find employment.
“Even if the reduction in DEAs in some part of the country is due to the rolling out of Universal Credit and part of a strategic move to generic advisors, we are concerned that these advisors will simply not have the training to fully support claimants with a learning disability.
“The problems with the administration of benefits and changes in the benefits system, combined with future cuts to benefits and social care, is causing fear and anxiety among the 1.4 million people with a learning disability and their families in the UK who are scared they could be isolated in their local communities."
The warning comes after the mental health charity Mind warned that the transition away from specialist help under Universal Credit would make the benefits system more difficult for people with mental health issues.
“We’re pretty sceptical of the ability of those jobcentre advisors to be able to understand the barriers that people with mental health issues face,” Mind’s policy manager Tom Pollard told the Independent earlier this month.
In a speech to the Conservative party conference in Manchester, Iain Duncan Smith told disabled people they should be working their way out of poverty with support from the state.
“We don’t think of people not in work as victims to be sustained on government handouts. No, we want to help them live lives independent of the state,” he said.
“We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.”
The Government is also pursuing a policy of cutting the level of payments from its disability Access To Work fund, which it plans to spread more thinly.
Other cuts include a sharp reduction in payments to ill people claiming Employment and Support Allowance who have been classified as possible being able to work in the future – the so-called “Work Related Activity Group”.
A Coalition of 60 disability charities warned last month that these cuts would make it more difficult for disabled people to find work.The Government has also scrapped the Independent Living Fund and given the responsibility for providing similar support to cash-strapped councils.
The latest figures on Jobcentre advisors were released by ministers in response to a Parliamentary question by Labour's Emily Thornberry.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pension said the fall in advisor numbers was consistent with Government policy.
“With the introduction of Universal Credit disabled people looking for work now have access to Work Coaches who are trained to provide tailored support specific to their individual needs. As we continue to make our mainstream services more accessible to disabled jobseekers it is expected that the number of Disability Employment Advisors will continue to decline,” he said.
“The Government is committed to halving the disabled employment gap and the most recent disabled employment figures show that 226,000 more disabled people found work over the past year.”