Although New Labour distanced itself from the neo-liberal ‘underclass’ discourses of its predecessors, its approach to disabled young people maintained key aspects of neo-liberalism, particularly an emphasis on individuals’ human capital, aspirations and self-investments as causes of and solutions to disabled young people’s unemployment. This is also apparent in early Coalition government statements. Since the 1990s, policies have focused on providing individually-tailored advice, developing individuals’ skills, and motivating appropriate self-investment. We examine recent evidence that highlights a number of problems with this focus. Notably, it entails a simplistic and individualised notion of ‘barriers’ to employment that cannot account for the complex impacts of disablement and inequality; moves towards open-market models of training and work support create perverse incentives that divert support away from those most in need; employment success is dependent on unpredictable local opportunity structures; and the focus on paid employment undermines other social contributions made by disabled young people.