An independent report, commissioned by the DWP, has called for greater use of Residential Training for disabled people and an extension of the scheme to include long term unemployed non-disabled people.
The report also accepts that this kind of training, which can involve periods of workfare away from home, should be opened up to the market. This process may begin with a open tender exercise next year.
Residential Training is a little known scheme available for disabled people who are long term unemployed and in the words of Jobcentre Disability Employment Advisors, are the ‘hardest to help’.
The programme lasts a year and includes a mixture of residential and non-residential training, along with a period of up to three months workfare. Whilst the DWP’s guidance (PDF) states that this workfare should aim to take place in the participant’s local area, in some cases it can also be arranged on a residential basis.
Currently the scheme is entirely voluntary with no sanctions for refusing to take part or leaving the training. Of course this doesn’t mean that Jobcentre advisors may not pressurise claimants to take part. Often the most vulnerable claimants, who may be isolated, have learning disabilities, a mental health condition or face other significant difficulties are bullied onto non-mandatory schemes, with vague threats and over-optimistic promises of what is likely to be achieved. As the scheme is hugely expensive however, it is unlikely there is currently a large amount of pressure on staff to make referrals.
Like all DWP training, it’s mostly bollocks. As the Department says: “Training is not designed to train a Participant to the highest level available in their chosen vocation, but to equip an individual with the skills and knowledge that enable them to obtain and sustain employment.”*
Instead it appears to be the usual low level training for minimum wage work that will be familiar to any claimants who have experienced the Work Programme, the New Deal and the endless other schemes run by welfare-to-work parasites and inflicted on unemployed people. The true purpose of the training seems to be to operate as some kind of re-education camp for disabled people. This week’s report says that the residential element of the scheme enables “unemployed disabled people ‘think new thoughts’ about their life chances and their ability to work.”
The infamous review of training and employment provision for disabled people written by Liz Sayce recommend that the DWP stopped funding this kind of training and instead put the money into mainstream workfare such as “work experience, including internships, work placements and on-the-job learning.”
This consultation report is a response to these recommendations and strongly disagrees, calling for the scheme to be extended to non-disabled long term unemployed claimants.
This comes along with recommendations that this form of training be ‘integrated’ within the Work Programme and the acknowledgement that if these recommendations are implemented then Residential Training will be opened up to the market.
Currently there are nine Residential Training centres, all run by charities and which it is fair to say offer decent standard of accommodation – all residents have their own room for example. However, should this training be put out to competition, then this is certain to undermine these conditions as organisations compete to downgrade facilities and cut costs.
If the private sector is involved in this process, then the implications are even more concerning. It is chilling to imagine what an A4e or G4S run Residential Training facility would look like in practice.
And once the welfare-to-work companies get a taste of the pie, mandation – which means benefits being stopped for people who refuse to attend – is unlikely to be far away.
This of course is wild speculation. This report contains only recommendations which may well be ignored. Any attempt to introduce mandation into a residential scheme would almost certainly require new legislation, which isn’t happening this side of the next election. It would also be far too expensive to roll this out to all claimants, and however it evolves is likely to remain aimed at the so called ‘hardest to help’.
But this report shows a worrying direction being considered at the DWP. The potential for a charity run residential training facility to eventually become an A4e run workhouse is difficult to ignore.
Strangely the link to this report, which was published on the 29th July, seems to have disappeared from the DWP website, although it is still available on google cache and at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/225491/residential-training-provision-independent-report.pdf
*This is a good example of the recently discussed principle of ‘less eligibility’. If any genuine training was available to unemployed people, then this may be a more attractive option than minimum wage work. Therefore it cannot be permitted.