Comment: Freud Report raises a tricky question

It wasn't long after Peter Hain's unfortunate departure from the Department for Work and Pensions that his successor, James Purnell, decided to dust down the Freud Report, published last year.

John Knight
John Knight

Gordon Brown and Purnell announced their plans in greater detail last week, including proposals about enhancing apprenticeships.

The Freud Report caused some chatter in the sector. In essence, David Freud was commissioned by Hain's predecessor, John Hutton, to revamp the Government's attempts to get more people on incapacity benefit into employment. Freud, a former banker who recommended a bigger role for the private and third sectors in delivering welfare-to-work programmes, is to become a part-time adviser to the DWP.

Purnell said he was "ideologically neutral" about whether public, private or voluntary organisations should handle such programmes. As I have said before, as a sector we need to exercise care in responding to this clarion call.

Ideology aside, the quest to get more disabled people into work is laudable. Disabled people are twice as likely as non-disabled people to live in poverty. There are many factors that contribute to disabled people's poverty, but low employment rates are certainly key.

Structured and personalised employment support services have an important role to play in improving this situation. The third sector, with its envied closeness to its beneficiaries and expertise working with particular groups of people in communities, is arguably well placed to deliver these programmes. But there is a difficult and delicate balance to be struck here.

What happens if a disabled person on a third sector-run employment programme fails to comply with it? If the DWP decides that failure was not justified, the individual could have their benefit cut. This means that you could end up with the third sector provider directly or indirectly involved in a decision to cut someone's benefits. Is that really what we exist for? The sector's work is to challenge poverty - not add to it.

- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk.thirdsector@googlemail.com.

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