One fifth of the world marking this day

What are we called: handicapped, crippled, disabled, impaired, mad, deaf-and-dumb, blind, peg-leg and much, much more and none of it great.  There are about 1.3 billion people, a fifth of people around the world, living with the consequences of physical or mental   ill-health.  Anyone reading this almost certainly knows friends or family members  who have disabilities and today’s the day to stand up for them.

Can the world afford to write us off?    Aren’t we voters, tax-payers, workers, customers, thinkers, artists, inventors, musicians, friends, spouses, parents, children just like everyone else?

Too often politicians, employers, businesses and public servants just see us as too difficult, too expensive and not worth bothering about.  Check out what they are doing on this International Day of People with Disabilities.    Ask them what they are doing to make all our lives better, happier and fulfilled.


Guest chef, John, helps cook outstanding French dishes.

On Baking Blind, I’m always keen to learn from anyone who loves cooking and has some fabulous food ideas to share.  This week, taxi driver John stepped back in to the kitchen to show me outstanding Pork Dijonnaise.  It’s not difficult and doesn’t use exotic ingredients so perfect for a meal to impress!

Sauteed potatoes, pork dijonnaise and french beans

The finished article.

With garlic sautéed potatoes and French beans, it served four very generously for under £10 and could be just perfect for a special lunch or dinner for Mothers’ Day next weekend.  Even I could manage the cooking!

Watch me cook with John on You Tube or download the recipe at

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000




Damson chilli Jam

Worth a try: • Damson chilli jam that uses the tail-end of the crop.

I mentioned that I’d made up this recipe a few weeks ago – using all those tiny and unripe damsons that aren’t worth much other effort.  It has been popular here:

2lb 4 oz small unripe damsons – stones in.

2 thumbs ginger – keep them small thumbs to avoid overwhelming the fruit.

2 chillies de-seeded

3 cloves garlic

2 tbsp fish sauce

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

12 oz sugar (with 8 oz it was still pretty tart).

Quarter pint cider vinegar

Just cover the   damsons with water and poach until soft and can remove stones when cooled – might need to put through a sieve.  If removing the stones by hand, it’s worth counting the damsons in to the pot and the stones out!

Finely grate/chop ginger, garlic and chilli – could do in a food processor.

Add all remaining ingredients except sugar to pan and return fruit pulp.

Bring to simmer, add sugar and cook until done then pot in to warmed and sterilised jars.

Good with cold meats, ham, cheese etc.  I’m going to use the riper ones to make damson gin!

Poor health means poor work prospects

What do you think:

  • Improving health and upskilling must be part of helping people to get back to work?
  • If better education improves skills leading to better jobs with less health risks, would we increase overall employment?
  • Are failings in education the root cause of high unemployment for people with long-term health conditions?
  • Is there any point in employment support without tackling poor health?

Catching up on summer reading, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation June report reveals just how significant poor health and low skills can be when unemployed people try to get jobs, stay in work, increase their wages and progress to full-time, permanent employment.  All of this resonates with current thinking that there needs to be much closer links between Jobcentres and the NHS when tackling unemployment.

Having a disability isn’t necessarily always associated with “poor health” (as many Para Olympians demonstrate) but there’s no doubt that many of those claiming benefits due to long-term health conditions will say that their health is poor.  We would all want them to have a better chance of working – with all the financial and social benefits that this can bring.  But the report suggests that work is not always going to lift them out of poverty because:

  • When people with poor health are employed, their jobs are more precarious, lower paid and more likely to be part-time and temporary.
  • People with poor mental health or drug/alcohol misuse can fare even worse.

However, it seems that having more skills can offset the disadvantages of poor health.  Which does beg the question as to whether having skills in the first place (and so avoiding those jobs with higher health risks) helps reduce the likelihood and/or consequences of poor health.  Perhaps it all goes back to the success (or not) of the education system?

Here are a couple of quotes from the report (the layout is mine):

  • “individuals who report poor health are significantly more likely to move
  • from employment to unemployment,
  • from permanent to temporary contracts,
  • from full-time to part-time work and
  • from activity to inactivity.
  • Similarly, they are significantly less likely
  • to stay in employment,
  • to move from unemployment to employment,
  • to move into a full-time job and
  • to move into a permanent job.

This section (of the report) also presented evidence which highlights that individuals with poor health are less likely to move out of low-pay employment and are more likely to move into low-pay employment.”

“Although this does not establish a causal relationship between poor health and labour market disadvantage, it is nevertheless informative and revealing about the importance of good health in relation to the labour market performance of individuals in Britain.”

“A more sophisticated statistical investigation than the one presented here would be needed to investigate the causal impact of health and qualifications on the labour market performance of individuals. Nonetheless, the results reported here suggest that while having poor health is not the only issue associated with relatively unfavourable labour market transitions, it is a principal one, and a lack of qualifications exacerbates the problem. Putting it differently, having some formal qualifications can mitigate the adverse relationship between poor health and labour market performance.

The evidence presented here suggests that for some labour market transitions (such as those involving movements from unemployment to different employment types) the lack of skills seems to be more important than poor health.

However, for other transitions, such as for staying in employment, as well as for the passage from activity to inactivity, health seems to matter more than skill.

However, no clear picture emerges from this analysis of whether qualifications or health status is more important for transitions into low-pay and into temporary work.

One thing that can be said with a little more certainty is that the presence of qualifications seems to have a mediating effect on the negative labour market experiences associated with ill health.

Also, as in the previous section, the results are stronger when mental health is used as the health indicator than when physical health status is used.”

If you are involved in employment support or public health, the report’s Section 7 covering Summary, conclusions and policy implications is worth a read.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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

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

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Benefit claimants de-humanised

Did you know? Society’s attitudes and the benefits system are vilifying, de-humanising and not helping the most vulnerable people.

Getting permanently “signed off” work with a sick note can seem great at the time when you are struggling with the onset of a major health problem and all its consequences. But it can shorten your life expectancy by several years. Other long-term health conditions, especially mental illnesses, are more likely too.
At the start, the security of benefits can seem like a lifeline when ever earning an income again seems impossible. But the growing trend of public vilification of those on benefits can bring other awful consequences.

The “Who Benefits?” report contains worrying data about how the general public’s attitude to benefit recipients has been increasingly negative over recent decades. And those attitudes themselves can have devastating impact on already fragile lives. The report used responses from people claiming a range of working age benefits (including disabled people):
•The highest proportion (36%) of respondents said that the reason they had/were receiving benefits was directly due to disability and a further 9% due to caring for a disabled person.
•Respondents reported encountering verbal abuse (15%) and physical abuse (4%) simply because they were receiving benefits – and their children can also suffer abuse for the same reason.
•38% of respondents said their confidence and self-esteem was affected and 31% said that their mental health was affected by negative public attitudes towards benefit claimants. (Yet, these are the vital factors that can influence someone’s likelihood of ever getting back to work. So the public attitudes, driven at least partly by media and political influences, directly contribute to higher unemployment and benefits dependency.)
•Respondents also reported less favourable treatment from key players because they were on benefits: 18% by employers, 18% by banks/financial services, 16% by landlords. (So a disabled job applicant may face double prejudice: due to their health and their benefits history).
•Respondents also reported feeling excluded by their friends (18%), communities (17%) and families (11%). (Even if these percentages reflect claimants feeling excluded from multiple relationships, they still represent a substantial proportion who feel isolated and may lack the networks that can improve their life and work chances.)
Many people want to get off benefits but the negative attitudes that are being generated make this increasingly difficult.
And The Guardian report indicates that the key employment interventions of the Work Capability Assessments (WCA) and Work Programme may further reduce job prospects and increase suicidal tendencies, suffering and sanctions amongst disabled benefit claimants.

Disability Cookery

Disability Cookery

Bouquets of the week.
To all those who rang me last Saturday and received rather short shrift: I was dripping with apricot glaze and other stickiness in the midst of decorating over a baker’s dozen Christmas cakes. I’m really grateful for their patience and understanding!

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Disabled benefit claimants are largest group

There are more disabled people claiming out-of-work benefits than any other group.

I discovered this weekend that talking about “Glasto” seems to be the way to show one is cool and in touch with the music festival scene. Clearly I’m not – but was at a great little event in the New Forest at the weekend. It seemed to be aimed at the Baby Boomers as the refreshments were either Pimms or champagne plus locally-sourced comestibles. All very civilised and lots of family groups until it got too cold.

Did you know?

In previous times, the number of people claiming Incapacity Benefit gave a broad approximation of numbers of unemployed disabled people. Now things have changed: with the introduction of Welfare Reforms and the Work Capability Assessments, about a quarter of Jobseeker Allowance claimants now have long-term health conditions/disabilities in addition to those claiming Employment and Support Allowance making them the largest group of unemployed people.
Despite much enthusiasm, the Work Programme has not proved successful for this large group as described in a recent paper by Inclusion. They and Scope have issued further reports and recommendations for improvements. I have gathered some highlights and nuggets of information from their reports.
There can be little doubt that we cannot afford so many people being lost to the workforce due to the onset of disabling conditions. Based on Scope’s figures, about eight million people (80% of all disabled people) gain their impairments during their working lives and, at the moment, only just over half of them manage to keep their jobs. We need the health services to actively help people stay at work: providing treatment without disabling delays. Last year, for example, for every two disabled people falling out of work, less than one managed to return. This suggests that, with an ageing workforce with increasing propensity for disability, tackling retention by employers must be a top priority. Lots of employers manage this and reap the benefits: there are about 4 million disabled people at work and nearly 40% have been with the same employer for over 10 years. Now we need to get the rest doing the same – seet the ‘Disability Confident’ video clips
All the evidence indicates that, once disabled people have left work, their likelihood of returning is low – with many poor consequences for each individual and the overall economy. Just considering the couple of million or so unemployed disabled people who say they want to get back to work, effective employment support to fulfil their goal could improve the economy by about £26billion.
There is the will to make changes. Thankfully, the old days are over: people being relegated to Incapacity Benefit with little support so being more likely to reach retirement age than get a job if they didn’t get off the benefit within 12 months. The concept of Employment and Support Allowance holds promise despite the on-going controversy around the Work Capability Assessments. However, the timing and pressures of the economic situation have been a huge disadvantage.
The absence of successful employment support hasn’t helped either: specialist Jobcentre staff are becoming as rare as hen’s teeth, the Work Programme hasn’t done as well as hoped and the “specialist” Work Choice help wasn’t well targeted. Alongside, disabled people seem likely to bear the brunt of the future Welfare Cap.
The pressure on the Department for Work and Pensions “Disability and Health Employment Strategy” is going to be intense but it could produce great benefits for everyone if it has realistic resourcing and timescales, makes best use of local, specialist support and gains the active commitment of the health sector and employers. We need to keep their toes to the fire and to make sure this happens. So it’s a bit disappointing that the proposals for the ESF Operational Programme 2014-20 don’t yet take much account of disabled people.

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

Bouquet of the week.
After years of train travel all over the country, I can’t speak highly enough of the station staff who provide passenger assistance. Whether I’m at Birmingham, Chesterfield, Fareham, Southampton Parkway, Waterloo or somewhere in-between, they have been excellent. And it’s a great relief (and rather fun) to be swept through Waterloo on the buggy rather than having to negotiate the rush-hour crowds. Of course, there have been the odd exceptions. There was a memorable occasion when, after waiting nearly an hour for my connecting train, I was put on to one going back to Chesterfield. Blissfully unaware due to laptop ear plugs, it was a rude awakening to be fished off the train at Derby to do a lap of honour back to Birmingham again. But they did manage to hold the next connecting train: imagine the sight of cane-wielding blind person flanked by apologetic out-riders cutting a swathe down the platform – at speed! Assistance at stations is invaluable and has the huge bonus of all those snatched conversations: over the years, hearing about the lives of a whole network of people – even down to the latest tattoo. It makes train travel a completely different experience

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Penny Melville-Brown


I had over 20 great years in the Royal Navy doing loads of different things: from photos with a dead turkey (public relations in the Ministry of Defence!) to intelligence flights over the Mediterranean. Nearly everyone was hugely helpful when my eyesight started failing – and the security guards regularly fished me out of the bushes when I got lost in Portsmouth naval base.

I’m hoping that what I’ve learned over the last 15 years working in the disability, equality and diversity fields will be helpful to others. The Disability Dynamics website has just been re-vamped and includes lots of resources for you to download – for example, I know that our Disability Etiquette guide is used on one Government Department’s intranet. Please feel free to grab whatever you can use – but include some accreditation.

Did you know?
Working disabled people are more likely to be self-employed than others (Census 2011).
We have been getting phonecalls from all over the UK following the re-runs of BBC TV “Saints and Scroungers” programmes featuring our clients with long-term health problems who have set up their own businesses. We have a whole selection of their success stories on
Self-employment has been booming since the recession – producing employment for about five times the number of people who have gone in to jobs (see my notes on the recent Resolution Foundation report).
Growth in self-employment and business start-ups is a recognised result of recessions as people make best use of their abilities and flair when jobs are scarce. And the New Enterprise Allowance with its volunteer mentors, transition funding from benefits to trading income and access to loans will have contributed. But it’s still not clear how well NEA plus all the business information available via HMRC and meets the needs of disabled people – there’s probably still too much “one size fits all approach” that isn’t sufficiently tailored to people with additional needs. When self-employment is such an important route to work for people like me, there seems to be a real gap in the market that projects like our Work for Yourself programme in Derbyshire try to fill. But there is still more demand out there.
Just as examples, I recently had phone calls with two highly vulnerable people in London: each have good business ideas that they want to progress but there is just no suitable specialist help available.

Wall aftermath

Wall aftermath

Grumble of the week.
A neighbour ran into one of my garden walls so I’ve been sorting out the claim. But my insurance company picked the wrong person when they asserted that failure to provide information in accessible format isn’t discrimination! Those who know me will understand the speed with which I gave them the relevant bit of legislation. I do find the financial sector really problematic on this score so perhaps I’ll have to escalate their failure to handle the complaint higher – perhaps the Financial Conduct Authority?

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000