Disability unemployment is just too complex for DWP alone.

What do you think?

  • Is there collective political will to end the national tragedy of disability unemployment?
  • Do all government Departments have champions tasked to coordinate return-to-work for disabled people?
  • Are Local Authorities best placed to coordinate practical delivery on the ground?

Failing to properly use the talents of about 20% of the potential workforce is a national tragedy: many people with long-term health conditions/disabilities are stuck in low paid jobs with little prospect of career advancement; many are simply stuck at home relying on benefits or the charity of others.  The cost of lack of fulfilment is high for all those individuals while, as a nation, we bear the costs of a less productive economy that also needs to fund those benefits.  And, of course, work is not right for everyone but we should, at minimum, be enabling those who want to work to fulfil their ambitions.

But it is not as simple as just putting together a good CV and providing a job-matching system.

Helping someone progress from economic inactivity and benefits can mean coordinating at least:

  • Jobcentres plus other employment, self-employment, education  and training providers (avoiding the funding pitfalls of the Work Programme and Work Choice);
  • GPs, occupational health  and other health care provision – especially around mental health;
  • Social care supporting employment )as required by the Care Act 2014 ,  the Children and Families Act 2014 plus the emerging statutory guidance supporting the Government’s Autism Strategy);
  • Financial reality checks of Benefits, Working Tax credit or Universal Credit (including the future emphasis on work/earn more and reduced UC), National insurance and tax alongside essential living costs;
  • Mobility, travel and transport;
  • Risk factors and their mitigation (from substance misuse and crime  to family and housing disruption);
  • Receptive employers willing to make reasonable adjustments when needed.

While the Department for Work and Pensions clearly has a leading role, we are too optimistic if they are expected to resolve disability unemployment on their own.  It is going to take a cross-Government strategy with the right funding mechanisms plus coordinated policies and delivery to succeed.  In the past, there has been too much piecemeal thinking without a sound grasp on the whole landscape of public services and their interactions with disabled people.

Underpinning any drive to assist more people with disabilities in to work needs a change of attitudes across the board: cross-Departmental commitment and funding that avoids creaming and parking; employers motivated to, rather than fearful of, employing disabled people; benefit structures and sanction regimes that don’t terrify individuals from even trying; acknowledgement by all that long-term ill-health needn’t be a bar to work.  All of us want a fair share in a thriving economy.

And while government may set the direction, they are not necessarily best placed to achieve delivery.  Pressure continues to mount for more local, holistic and integrated return-to-work support for disabled people.  It echoes our Help to Work approach of local partnerships (www.helptowork.org).  This short paper advocates person-centred, rather than standardised, back-to-work support.

This type of help isn’t easy or cheap and requires in-depth understanding of all the local resources available to the individual.  Help both to work and stay in work is likely to be needed long-term so providers embedded with local communities have more chance of both longevity and establishing the essential partnerships.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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