Equality governance could answer structural, institutionalised discrimination and unfairness.

What do you think?

  • Are we already seeing those disempowered and distanced by inequality kicking back at privilege and “authority”?
  • What happens when policies actively increase disadvantage and deprivation?
  • Where is the leadership and accountability to make life fairer for everyone?

Equality and fairness are in the headlines: from Theresa May’s first Prime ministerial statement and the flak around Sports Direct employment practices to the disability employment gap and the critical Equality and Human Rights Commission reports on gender pay discrimination and race inequalities.  We seem to be facing increased polarisation between the influential “haves” and the disempowered “have-nots” that is already putting political, economic and social security at risk.  In effect, we have structural and institutionalised inequality and discrimination – not just a side-issue of decisions but a direct consequence of policy over many decades.

My starter-for-10 answer is that the Board of every Government department, public sector body, business, charity   and other organisation should have at least one person responsible for equality and fairness governance covering employment and services.  This isn’t just the rather lame “champion” but a remit equivalent to financial probity, operational effectiveness etc. – and with similar accountability.  With little cost, our society’s structures will get the nudge to re-focus rather than revolutionise their activities – before it gets too late to manage increasing public and customer disaffection.

Inspiration comes from the report on “Devolution and disadvantage in the Sheffield City Region: an assessment of employment, skills and welfare policies”  which calls for “inclusive governance at the City Region level”  covering governance of Local Economic Partnerships, other geographic levels and employment programmes – a good start but not far enough!  And, of course, it feels good to have the Help to Work and Work for Yourself projects that we delivered getting coverage in this study.

Section 4 of the report describes how policies can restrict access to employment and skills support: the cuts caused by austerity measures have more negative impact on those already poor and disadvantaged (whether or not they are working).  This is further exacerbated in areas of existing high deprivation such as Bolsover and Barnsley because welfare reform policies have specifically sought to reduce eligibility for disability benefits when residents within these former mining areas have higher levels of long-term health conditions.  The seemingly arbitrary benefit sanction regime piles on the pain, causes mass destitution and drives many out of the benefit/back-to-work support systems – and is even more significant in the deprived areas because ESA sanction levels are higher than for JSA.

Essentially, all this describes how policy is creating an underclass of deprived and disadvantaged people increasingly detached from the structures that make our society work – it sounds like a breeding ground for dissatisfaction and dissent.  Presumably there is a policy risk assessment as to the tipping point after which the misery turns in to action – and perhaps we are already at that point with the BREXIT vote being the first and, thankfully, democratic manifestation of public unrest?  How long will they be able to keep the lid on before the pot boils over?    How much of this is already echoed elsewhere as other countries see mass dissatisfaction with decision makers too elevated from the reality of their policies?  Perhaps they need to recognise that political stability and popular engagement are as fundamental to economic strength as improving devolution and infrastructure – surely there are enough historic and global  examples of what happens  when the most down-trodden revolt?

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Blueprint for one million disabled people to get back to work awaited.

What do you think:

  • Got some ideas for the Work and Health Programme Green Paper that’s due?
  • What happens to vulnerable people repeatedly set up to fail?
  • If employers won’t change, what will?

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There are nearly 7 million disabled people of working age in the UK but over half (3.6m, 53%) of them don’t work (compared with some 20% of non-disabled people).    To meet the Conservative manifesto of halving this employment gap by 2020, over a million more disabled people need to get work in the next four years!

This looks like a hugely over-optimistic pledge taking account of the very tight timescale with tiny (0.1% progress since 2015), no Government having achieved significant success over decades and the limited funding of the main delivery vehicle: the Work and Health   programme.

The Government is about due to issue a Green Paper on this new Programme.  I strongly commend the Learning and Work Institute paper with ideas about how the Programme should be shaped and funded.

From my perspective, all this ambition risks foundering without a major change in employer attitudes and behaviour – the job market is already massively restricted by more than half of small and medium sized businesses admitting that they discriminate when recruiting.

Once again, I champion self-employment as a potent alternative (already highly favoured by many disabled people) but this needs wholescale re-design of New Enterprise Allowance and proper integration with HMRC’s current Making Tax Digital ambitions and accessibility channels.

Based on the 20% success rates for disabled people achieved by the Work Programme and Work Choice, the pool of 3.6 million unemployed disabled people seems just too small to achieve the Government’s goal.  The situation is even more challenging when the pool includes significant numbers of ESA/IB claimants for whom these two programmes had even lower success rates (about 12%).  Additionally, many (47%) within that pool have limited work interest/capacity.

In real terms, future interventions might not achieve many more than about 2 million disabled participants   and so would need 50% success rates – a massive leap over past performance for those receiving ESA/IB.

With Jobcentres taking on more responsibility for long-term JSA claimants, most of the future Work and Health Programme funding of about £400 million (up to 2020-21) is likely to be aimed at disabled clients.  It sounds a lot until considering how the funds will be spread across 2 million participants/1 million work successes.

In reality, at this funding level, the “halving the employment gap” by 2020 is clearly not feasible and nor is participation by 2 million people.  The Programme Green Paper is only due to be issued in autumn 2016 so there is even less time for implementation and delivery.

Targeting interventions on volunteers who are keen to take part and work could be most cost-effective: avoiding expenditure on enforcing “mandatory” participation, offering employers the most motivated job applicants, providing success role models for those currently reluctant and demonstrating that interventions succeed.

But success rates need to be excellent and multi-faceted.  Not everyone will get work but even those who don’t must achieve life improvements (whether more social inclusion, better health, increased independence, new skills etc.) so that each individual, various public services and society as a whole all benefit and become enthusiastic champions of the interventions.   Like any other experience, bad reviews have longer reach than good and, for individuals who are repeatedly set-up to fail by poorly designed and ill-funded interventions, their life prospects can be irrevocably damaged.  They are more likely to join a cadre of people who are highly resistant to employment interventions as their risk-aversion to attempting work is reinforced.

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Project manager opportunity.

What do you think:

  • Got the skills and experience to manage this project?
  • Understand how entrepreneurial skills can open up employment?
  • Enthusiastic about supporting unemployed people back to work?

Here is a chance to make a difference in a short-term contract as a part-time project manager delivering enterprise support for unemployed and economically inactive people in the Sheffield City Region (which extends to parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire).  I was involved in part of the bid writing and think this project has lots of possibilities.

Click here for further information

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

War veterans honoured at “Downton Abbey” with battle Proms.

  • Imagine a summer evening cooling over a field of 10,000 people of every age trying to clap faster than the orchestra playing “What shall we do with the drunken sailor”?
  • Is it only in this green and pleasant land that a picnic supper means three courses with candelabra and World War I cavalry display?
  • Do others’ hearts stir on hearing the unmistakable strum of the Spitfire engine as it reprises those sorties of long ago?

 

spitfireThis weekend brings the last night of the BBC Proms – the season of music in London’s Albert Hall – and named for the audience of promenaders who stand in front of the stage throughout the performances.  They will be the protagonists during that final performance as it concludes with “Jerusalem”, “Land of Hope and Glory” and, of course, that mariner renown for alcohol consumption.

Across the country many other outdoor venues now import an orchestra, soprano and fireworks for a picnicking audience.  But few will do so with the élan to match Highclere Castle (location of Downton Abbey filming) where they deliver the Battle Prom – with members of the Armed Forces, veterans, the cavalry troop marking conflict from 100 years ago plus the Spitfire fly-past.  Most spectacular and moving was the sound of artillery and rifles from both World Wars firing in time with the martial music and during the great finale.  With this year marking 100 years since the Battle of the Somme, it could only give us the briefest echo of those desperate times.

But we were brought up to date with the damage sustained by today’s veterans: several spoke of their experience of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder from the Falklands War and since.  So, again utterly British, we all sponsored members of our supper parties to perform 22 push-ups on the spot – a new tradition from our American allies to mark the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day in the USA.

Being silly and over-the-top with madly jingoist songs is one interpretation – but paying respect to those who have served and suffered on our behalf is nearer the truth.

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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Will making tax digital make it easier for everyone?

What do you think:

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  • Want to keep on track of your tax liabilities?
  • Welcome more help from the taxman?
  • Yes, but doing it on-line or a smart phone might be difficult?

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is planning a new approach that should end all that form filling each year to tell them about what you’ve earned, received in interest and other income so that your tax can be worked out.    By getting regular information from employers, banks and building societies, they will have lots of the information already so that you just need to add anything extra – and all this will be possible through a computer or smart phone – meaning that you can see at any time what you might need to pay in tax.  Self-employed people and businesses will also have a better and up-to-date idea of their tax situation by sending HMRC regular information and getting their own tax forecasts –again, all possible on-line.

You can read about their proposals in a series of consultation documents.  I recommend “Better use of information” for anyone and “Simplifying tax for unincorporated businesses” and “Bringing business tax in to the digital age” for those running their own businesses –they give examples of how the new system will work. There are other documents too for those who want to look at more detail.

Sending and getting financial and tax information on-line may not suit everyone – especially if using computers or smart phones is difficult because of a disability or other circumstances so it is worth checking out their proposals and telling HMRC what you like and what you don’t.  You can send comments to them until 7 November 2016.

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Mental health – are we getting to grips with the causes?

What do you think:

  • Are we too terrified to talk about the mental disorders caused by sexual abuse?
  • If war heroes deserve empathy for their PTSD, don’t other victims?
  • Does denial about the causes of mental ill-health simply make the problems worse?

We probably all know that poor mental health is the most common disabling condition – not just in the UK (perhaps 1 in 4) but also internationally.  So why aren’t there similar worldwide eradication programmes to those seeking to stamp out polio and smallpox?

Perhaps we all need to understand the causes  better?

This week, the Ministry of Defence has been castigated for continuing to issue anti-malarial drug Larium for a decade or more without taking proper account of the disastrous consequences on the minds of some military men and women – consequences so bad that even the Chief of Defence Staff refused the drug himself!  Many might condemn such an abdication of leadership and the duty of care when they knew that the drug was the cause.

And, as the military themselves well know, trauma in all its shapes and sizes can result years later in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  A hundred years after the first World War, we know more about mental collapse after battle and that traumatic experience causes similar damage to others: in many other professions and amongst those who have been caught up in extreme situations – whether terrorist attacks, football stadium disasters such as Hillsborough or the more common car smash.    Knowing more about the causes means that we can understand the consequences better and be more empathetic.

But there is a whole hidden cause that is more insidious, probably more common and nearly taboo: the anxiety, depression and other consequences of abuse.

This could be the bullying and harassment that goes on at work to physical, sexual and emotional violence in the home – and often this abuse continues for years.    How desperate may they be:  struggling to manage life when constantly anxious and so depressed that even simple decisions seem overwhelming; with rock-bottom self-esteem, shame and humiliation; fearfully wary of other people who could be new abusers;   often undiagnosed and untreated; unlikely to have an equal chance of working.   When social stigma makes revealing mental ill-health almost impossible, what chance is there that such underlying causes are revealed and better understood?  Most of us would have little idea of how to hear or respond to such revelations.

When you are next around the dinner table, on the bus or train, watching the match or stage, just remember that 1 in 4 near you can be on a mental tightrope because other people failed them, abused them or simply didn’t care enough to keep them safe.    Give them that extra smile, extra time and extra care – and don’t forget that it could easily be you.

There’s more about the links between sexual abuse and mental health conditions at http://wp.me/p7Di4K-mZ

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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More inclusive Come Dine with Me.

What do you think:

  • Love or hate these programmes?
  • Want to show that you can be a great cook/host and ill-health doesn’t get in your way?
  • Want to win the prize?

The producers of Channel Four’s “Come Dine with Me” programmes rang looking for people with long-term health conditions/disabilities to take part in future filming.  This is all part of the Channel’s increased commitment to being inclusive and accessible to those with disabilities and getting us better represented on screen.  They are looking for potential talent in southern Hampshire in early October and other locations for future programmes.  You can read more at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/cwggg2liw4hod4e/AACgWJ4M1crlFgUZc-WQdjAka?dl=0

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000