Equality for disabled people

What do you think? • Have 5 years of the Equality Act made any difference for disabled people? • Will House of Lords review of equality legislation make any improvement for disabled people? • Do disabled people face systemic and institutionalised discrimination?

There has been a recent call for evidence from The House of Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability as part of their review of whether the legislation is working for disabled people.   Drawing on previous blogs over a couple of years, I sent them the following comments – and couldn’t hope to cover all the other areas in which we still aren’t getting an equal chance.

Without doubt, five years of legislation have had limited positive benefit for disabled people and, in some ways, their situation is probably worse.  This is particularly true in relation to the failings of the Public Sector Equality Duties. The Government initiative to enable disabled people to fulfil their potential and have equality of opportunity by 2025 has become a creature of smoke and mirrors, shackled by austerity cuts, deaf to the legislation’s demands during policy creation and blinkered to it’s requirements in delivery.  The generous amongst us may believe these failings are simply oversights of lazy, broad-brush policy thinkers whereas the more cynical may perceive systemic and institutionalised discrimination emanating from the very heart of the nation’s public sector.  Would other laws be flouted so blatantly?  How can we possibly hope that employers, businesses and others will comply and make a difference when it is so obvious that the public sector does not?

 Perhaps the answer is really simple?  The majority of “disabled” people (about two thirds of us according to the Office for Disability Issues research) wouldn’t use this label about themselves.   So we are very unlikely to have any homogenous coordinated political voice.  Would another 20% of the electorate be ignored so consistently?

 One wonders how these public policies, practices and procedures will be squared with the protection afforded by the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People when the UK’s performance is next reviewed.

 Just a few examples of issues that have been publicly evidenced over recent years:

Life chances:

  • Prisoners.  The 2014 Ministry of Justice report was lamentable (out-of-date data and disability definitions) but did reveal that the proportion of prisoners with limiting long-term health conditions was about twice that in the general population.  Does this mean that, as a nation, we manage some impairments through the criminal justice system or does the system itself create those impairments – or both?  We are probably unimpressed by other nations that imprison disproportionate numbers of those from, say, ethnic minorities but seem to barely raise an eyebrow at similarly skewed outcomes of our home-grown justice system.
  • Bedroom Tax.  There is a disproportionately higher level of disabled people in social housing.  They are more likely to be receiving housing benefits.  It is good news that there has been more flexibility in waiving “bedroom tax” for those disabled people who need extra space for their impairment-related equipment.    But how were their needs considered when the policy was created and the rules designed?
  • Disproportionately poor health outcomes.  The Chief Medical Officer’s 2014 report highlighted that people with visual (like me) or hearing impairments are more likely to acquire dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, other long-term health conditions, anxiety or stress and have less confidence in managing our health.    Yet suggestions to her that a key issue is the failure of the health sector to communicate effectively with us using alternative formats, auxiliary aids etc received just the response that Equality Act compliance rests with individual health providers.  So where is the leadership and policy drive to redress the situation and implement the legislation?  The consequences are not just discriminatory but life threatening.

Employment issues.  My primary interest area:

  • Increased age requirements for State pensions.  Expecting people to work longer before they can claim their state Retirement Pension goes hand-in-hand with an ageing population.  But does all the supporting policy make this feasible for that majority of disabled people who acquire their impairments during their working lives (some 70% according to DWP).  It is very well known that propensity for disability increases with age (under 5% of those starting their careers which more than quadruples to 23% of those approaching retirement).  So, let’s have the policy but make sure that it works in reality by tailoring and delivering employment legislation, practices and support accordingly rather than jeopardising the livelihoods of even more people with impairments.
  • Work Programme and Work Choice.  The original concept was good: help people to get back to work.    But it needed much more attention to practical realities to avoid disproportionate outcomes for disabled people.  Instead, flawed funding models, poor contract management and insufficient specialist delivery has left those facing most work barriers still on the shelf.  Overall, it looks as if the improvement in the economy is probably the biggest factor in the employability of jobseekers whereas publicly-funded employment support has more potential impact amongst disabled benefit claimants.  But this depends on good delivery: holistic, individual, specialist, tailored, flexible, local with all adjustments in place and empathetic, experienced front-line teams – so quite different from much current delivery.
  • Employment and Support Allowance, Work capability Assessments and Access To Work (ESA, WCA and ATW).  These should be the three pillars that help disabled people get back to work.  But a 2014 Select Committee report described WCA as de-humanising and distressing, stressful, confusing, uncertainty and more.  Another Select Committee report the same year was similarly highly critical of the ATW system for providing in-work support for disabled people and said it required substantial improvement (and those self-employed have had a particularly hard time).   So, with two legs buckling if not actually broken, are the policies properly in place to give us equality of opportunity?  Instead, it seems that unlawful discrimination and harassment are endemic in the delivery systems.
  • New Enterprise Allowance.  Where is the evidence that the policy design and delivery detail for this initiative took account of the needs of disabled people?    It should have been a basic consideration that then merited even higher attention because disabled people are the largest and most costly group of unemployed people and, as shown by the 2011 Census, those who work are more likely to be self-employed than their non-disabled peers.  Of course, some disabled entrepreneurs will have survived the judgemental processes and inadequate timescales but was the real potential of the initiative fully realised?  We receive phone calls and e-mails from across the UK each time one of our new disabled business owners is featured by the BBC –showing that the demand is there but the NEA is not hitting the mark.

Return to the old box-ticking equality impact assessment processes would just risk resistance to bureaucratic red tape.  But we know that one-size doesn’t fit all.  Instead those creating and delivering public policies need to undertake more robust success and risk impact assessments that address equality issues.  Where citizens with protected characteristics such as disability will be most affected by a policy, those characteristics need to be at the heart of decision making and delivery design in order to be successful.  “Most affected” means that disabled people (or other protected groups) may experience positive or negative consequences at disproportionately higher levels in relation to either/both the overall population or individual impact.

There is an untapped resource of experts with practical experience who can contribute to shared goals alongside those in the Government Departments that most affect disabled people.  Utilising them offers more chance of getting policy and delivery right from the outset rather than years of subsequent criticism and costly change.

Current enforcement seems patchy at best and very difficult for individuals to access.  While there is scope for improving enforcement, it is highly preferable for those in the public sector to be better motivated from the outset by recognising that effective consideration of disability issues will improve the success of their policies.  More carrot than stick!

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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In-work support for disabled people failing

Did you know? •Access To Work support highly criticised and needs substantial improvement says Parliamentary Committee. •Legal compliance seems optional for Access To Work and the Equalities Commission hasn’t managed to bring them to book. •Government more focussed on disabled people watching sport rather than whether we can work and pay for the tickets?

Access To Work is the scheme run by the Department for Work and Pensions to assist disabled people to work. It can provide funding for special equipment, some work travel, support workers and more. But the report published by a Parliamentary Select Committee on 19 December exposed how this vital support has failed to keep up with the efforts of Welfare Reform and the Work Programme in moving more disabled people in to work.
Published just as most people started their Christmas breaks, the report hasn’t had much visibility so it needs wider support if ATW is going to tackle the high unemployment rates amongst people with long-term health conditions . Here are points I’ve picked out of the summary:
•ATW needs substantial improvements.
•The Department seems to be trying to increase the number of people receiving ATW support but with only a slightly increased budget. This means that some people who have high support needs are bearing the brunt of the inadequate funding. My perception is that people are considered to be “Fit for Work” by the Work Capability Assessment process (with all it’s other well recognised flaws) on the basis that ATW support is available for those who need it – but that this is not backed up by sufficient funding to make it happen.
•It seems that savings from the closure of the Remploy factories that had been earmarked for ATW didn’t get transferred. Funding has been provided through the Work Programme but this has had very limited success in supporting people with long-term health conditions.
•ATW appears to focus primarily on people with sensory and physical impairments but there are many more people with a much larger spectrum of conditions that need help.
•Policy that caps support for Deaf people who use BSL interpreters needs urgent resolution. But it is disappointing that the report doesn’t show equal concern for others of us who need highly skilled support workers too. Some might consider that such a policy is indirect discrimination that DWP cannot justify and that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission should be on their case.
•There is no clear information about how ATW decisions are made and how they can be challenged. In practice, from my experience, the Department is deliberately not telling people that they can take disputes to the Independent Case examiner and the Parliamentary and Health services Ombudsman. It isn’t just or fair to deny us our rights.
•ATW is not taking adequate account of the full circumstances of self-employed people’s businesses. Again, it also seems that they have little appreciation of the circumstances of those running single person companies. This flies in the face of Census data that shows that working disabled people are more likely to be self-employed than others.
•Poor administration. Enough said.
•ATW staff need better disability awareness and communications need to be more accessible. From my perspective, it is staggering that a system aimed at supporting disabled people is not compliant with the Equality Act 2010 and that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission hasn’t taken a stance on this.
•The Department has introduced major changes but not told the people who will be affected! One feels rather mushroom-like …
As you may have guessed, I provided evidence to the Select committee and wouldn’t it be great if the ATW team talked to us who have had years more experience of the system than those who run it? From an individual perspective, I see no sign of any resolution to disputes that have been going on for months already. It feels as if the last 15 years working to help other disabled people get back in to employment is treated with utter contempt when now my future work prospects are put at risk rather than being supported by this system.
Perhaps the current survey in to the accessibility for spectators at sports events is timely – it looks as if I may have lots more leisure time in the future!

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

Bouquet of the week.
To all those disabled people who have been recognised in the New Year’s Honours List – we may not be able to identify you all but huge congratulations for making contributions to our society and setting great examples of just what is possible.

Yours respectfully,

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Access to Work for disabled people failing

Did you know? The third and final Access To Work leg of employment support for disabled people is at risk of failing.

Today’s report from the Parliamentary Select Committee on their review of Access To Work raises many questions as to whether this support that should enable disabled people to work is able to do the job. From out-dated administration through inequitable treatment to inadequate funding, there are many aspects of the scheme which damage its effectiveness and further undermine the already poor performance of the Work Programme and Work Capability Assessment process.
Many disabled people want to get back to work – and it makes economic sense to ensure that they can fulfil their ambitions. Not only do working people contribute tax and National Insurance payments to the overall State coffers but getting them off benefits can produce huge savings to the Welfare bill.
As the number of mainstream unemployed (Jobseekers Allowance claimants) continue to decline with an improving economy, the next Government will need to create a much more robust approach to resolving the plight of unemployed people with long-term health conditions/disabilities:
•The Work Capability Assessment process is well known for its failings, high levels of successful appeals and failure to properly address some conditions – hopefully policy improvements will reinforce better processes by the new contractor.
•Work Programme and other employment support contracts haven’t yet incentivised providers to succeed enough with disabled people. More personalised, individual, tailored, local help already has a strong track record but doesn’t seem to fit in with Government preferences for large scale contracts or their ability to manage them
•In-work help with travel, adaptive equipment and support workers provided by Access To Work can be critical in enabling the employment of many disabled people – and its provision is assumed by the Work Capability Assessments. But simply expecting more people to be supported for the same amount of funding is unrealistic and, more important, counter-productive. All of this is exacerbated by out-dated administration and policies that are secretive and fly in the face of employment law.

As the political parties ramp up for the next election, they need to consider how their policies will influence disabled people (about 20% of the population) and their families, friends, carers etc (probably at least another 10%). There’s considerable electoral mileage to be gained (or lost) – especially as disability is more prevalent amongst older people who are also more likely to vote. Let’s check out what the manifestos promise.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Parliament reviews Access to Work

Did you know? Parliament is checking on the funding that helps people with health conditions/disabilities to work.

I’ve just sent in comments for Parliament’s Work and Pensions Select Committee for their inquiry in to Access To Work support. This is the extra help/funding available for disabled people in work covering adaptive equipment, some travel assistance, support workers and more. Having talked to our own clients and from personal experience, I know just how vital this can be. The inquiry is particularly timely when there’s so much criticism of the flagship Work Programme and its poor record in assisting disabled people to get work that lasts. Alongside, the “Benefits Cap” is likely to have most impact on unemployed disabled people – so we are being squeezed in every direction, under pressure to get work but assistance is just not successful enough.
For the Access To Work debate, I’m plugging two main issues:
Firstly, we need much more transparent processes, criteria, documentation, customer service, appeals and complaints guidance that is used consistently – both across the country and for the long term.
Secondly, although only a tiny number of disabled people use support workers for long periods during their working week, they are now under pressure to use ATW funding to employ them themselves rather than use agencies. Is it realistic to expect those facing most difficulties in their employment to then take on all the complexities, responsibilities and risks of becoming an employer? What is really clear is that those pushing this policy don’t themselves have enough understanding of all the employment law: HMRC restrictions on self-employment, ACAS guidance on TUPE, new pension rights and more.
Hopefully, the Select Committee’s scrutiny will mean that Access To Work focuses more on the goal of helping people to work rather than making it even more difficult.

140624 Flowers4Bouquet of the week.
I was at Lauro’s in Fareham this week for another of their fabulous special international gourmet dinners – modern Japanese this time. These are wonderful evenings of exceptional food and great service where the whole rest restaurant follows the same menu of new experiences and tastes. I often go with another former naval Commander, Maggie, and other friends. The next one is the Arabian banquet in July and Mediterranean in August. It’s really good to have such an outstanding facility in our small town.