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Sign reading creamed or parked4 March 2010

If you are currently on a Pathways to Work programme, there’s a real chance that you have either been creamed or parked by private sector companies struggling to maximise profits out of getting claimants into work.  If you have a mental health condition or learning disability, there’s also a real possibility that you could sue for damages under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Back in January Benefits and Work revealed damning evidence from the DWP itself that Pathways to Work has not had any effect on the number of claimants moving into work.  (See:  Pathways to work a total failure DWP admits)

Now a further report published last month by the DWP shows that some agencies that are supposed to help claimants move into work are much more interested in profits than they are in genuinely helping claimants.

Two techniques used by companies to increase profits are ‘creaming’ and ‘parking’.

‘Creaming’ is the practice of working intensively with claimants who have less serious health problems and concentrating the agency’s energies on them.

‘Parking’ involves giving a bare minimum of service to claimants who are seen as too difficult to move into work because they have more severe health problems.  The report highlights ‘people with mental health conditions, learning difficulties and clients without written or spoken English’ as prime targets for parking.

Agencies are using traffic light systems and numbering systems to indicate how much effort should be devoted to any given client.. According to the report ‘Some advisers felt that these systems were rather crude and subjective but they were a way of prioritising how much time advisers spent with clients . . . ’

In fact, regardless of whether they are crude and subjective, these systems are almost certainly a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act, which makes it unlawful to treat people less favourably on the grounds of their disability. 

For example, a profit driven agency may expend huge amounts of energy on behalf of one client because they ‘only’ have a knee injury which is rapidly improving and so they are likely to be relatively easy to find work for.  But they may cynically ‘park’ a hugely motivated young person with a moderate learning difficulty whose life would be enormously enhanced by regular employment, because they know employers will be reluctant to take them on. 

Such practices are not only morally repugnant and almost certainly illegal.    They also make a mockery of minister’s repeated claims that employment and support allowance is about ensuring that no-one is forgotten or abandoned just because they have a health condition or because they are disabled.

The truth is that the same people who are discriminated against by employers are also being discriminated by the pathways providers working for the DWP.  The government clearly knows this – the report was published by the DWP - and yet no action is being taken to halt these shameful and cynical practices.

One of the original arguments for involving the private sector in Pathways was that they would find new and innovative ways to help people with complex needs back into work.  The reality turns out to be that they find new and innovative ways to help themselves to profits whilst abandoning claimants with complex needs.  Or, as the report puts it:

“There was little evidence that prime providers were developing in-house provision
to enhance the quality of customer services. . . Service innovation on the
part of prime providers was largely focused on reducing operational costs and
achieving performance efficiencies.”

If you believe you have been discriminated against by a Pathways agency, you may want to consider making a data protection request for all the data that the company holds on you.  If there is any evidence of a traffic light or numbering system, or if it appears that the documents have been tampered with to remove such evidence, then you may wish to seek ‘no win, no fee’ legal support to bring a claim under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Alternatively, you might want to consider making a formal complaint to the DWP and copying your MP into the correspondence.  If the matter is not satisfactorily resolved you may then be in a position to complain to the parliamentary ombudsman who has the power to recommend that the DWP pay compensation.

You can download a copy of The influence of outcome-based contracting on Provider-led Pathways to Work.

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