Government’s proposals to “halve the disability employment gap” raise more questions than answers.

There are only just a few more days to respond to the Government’s Green Paper which is all about supporting many more disabled people to work https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/564038/work-and-health-green-paper-improving-lives.pdf.  My comments have just gone in and the core questions concerning me are:

  1. Is there sufficient long-term cross-Government political will, financial commitment and official capacity to make all of this a reality?
  2. Are disabled people themselves sufficiently embedded in the design, delivery, commissioning and governance of all this change?
  3. Have success and the risks of failure been measured more realistically?
  4. Has the high level of antipathy and mistrust been sufficiently calibrated?
  5. Should employment support force the reluctant rather than welcome the willing?
  6. Will employers’ attitudes be changed?
  7. Are successful employment support programmes described?
  8. Does local partnership delivery feature strongly?
  9. Is self-employment getting enough attention?
  10. Is the health sector ready, willing and able to contribute?
  11. Is the evidence, data, information and resources available to all?
  12. Is this strategy going in the right direction?

To every question, the answer is a resounding “No, not yet!”  While the minds that put all of this together are willing, the body of proposals and solutions are not.

You can see my thinking about each of these questions here https://www.dropbox.com/sh/w7baeb6nn2kp7we/AADd6yKb0PBfPskOivQQU1-ma?dl=0  You might agree or not but tell the Government what you think of their proposals – deadline is 17 February 2017 to workandhealth@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

Happy reading!

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube

penny@laylands.co.uk

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

What happens to work programme rejects

Do you know? How are all the unemployed people without benefits surviving?  How the Work Programme is performing?

September’s employment figures show that the economic upturn, the Work Programme and the Welfare Reform benefit sanctions regime are all having impact as the number of unemployed benefit claimants (966,500) is declining. But there is now a larger and growing number of unemployed people not claiming JSA (978,000 (whose work problems remain intractable and are likely to place different strains on the State and society. The number of people economically inactive due to long term sickness has also risen.

All those non-claimant non-working people must be surviving somehow:
•Perhaps the “black market” has beckoned which presumably passes the issue to HMRC?
•Perhaps they are relying on friends and families, charities and food banks – is the “Big Society” stepping up?
•Or are more falling between the gaps to acute deprivation with the health and social consequences that place more demand on the NHS and other Government agencies?

Hopefully, all those different structures are geared up to take the strain as the issues are dissipated across Government and society. Fingers crossed – or perhaps we need a cross-Department “son of Work Programme”?
Meanwhile, Recent Inclusion analysis of the latest employment figures shows that DWP has achieved more improvements in the employment situation:
•Further reductions in unemployment figures and rate
•Further reduction in unemployed claimants.
•Further reductions in workless young people.
•Further reduction in the number of unemployed people per vacancy.
The ERSA report highlights the achievements of the Work Programme saying that “around 100,000 more people, unemployed for 52 weeks or more, found work between June 2011 and April 2014 than would have found work without the Work Programme. It was therefore responsible for more than ten per cent of all job starts for long-term claimants over that period.”
Notably, the examples used in the report don’t include disabled people. It will be good to see the Government’s report required by Social Value legislation on the social, economic and environmental impact plus lessons learned for those other parts of Government.

Inclusion has also just published their analysis of Work Programme performance which also reports some improvements: “almost 1 in 4 of participants (24.1%) of participants secure a sustained job outcome within two years.” So the majority don’t!
They also explain: “Performance for ESA (and disabled people in general) remains low. DWP have now separated out the ‘New ESA Claimants group’ into two parts – one for those who were originally expected to go on the programme, and a second one for the expanded group with a 12-month expectation before they would be fit for work, although no extra payments are available for outcomes from this latter group.” So little incentive to reduce cherry-picking.

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

Bouquet of the week.
Martin the painter has struggled with ill-health for over three months when he couldn’t work and his usual intensive exercise regime fell apart (he does completely mad night time off-road cycling and more). Now he’s easing back in to the saddle and new jobs with the help of an assistant and avoiding the ladder work. Like any man, he downplays the struggle and worry but it’s clear that family support, determination and cheerfulness have got him back on track.

Yours decoratively,

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Employment Support allowance (ESA) fails disabled people

Did you know? Employment and Support Allowance is failing disabled people and their desire to work: DWP shoots self in foot.

There was quite a flurry in the media this week about the Work and Pensions Select Committee report on this benefit – and, over recent years, criticism of its integral Work Capability Assessment has become toxic. My reading (Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments) of the report is that the WCA just isn’t good enough to identify the adjustments and support that people with health conditions/disabilities will need in order to work. Even when there is some information, it isn’t reaching the people who are assisting them back in to employment.
The Select Committee is recommending that the whole benefit should be re-designed – let’s hope that DWP uses the knowledge and experience of disabled people and their organisations to do this. After all, we all have the same goal and want a system that helps rather than hampers.
Even more alarming elements within the report are the experiences of disabled people: described as de-humanising and distressing, stressful, confusing and more. One wonders how these policies, practices and procedures can be squared with the protection afforded by equality legislation and the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People?

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

Bouquet of the week.
This goes to Theresa, my office support worker for nearly seven years. She’s been an absolute brick in keeping me sane amongst inaccessible documents and websites, helped me keep the Work for Yourself programme (www.businessability.co.uk) on track and been wonderfully cheerful throughout. She has grown and developed great professional skills and is ready to move on to her new career in education: helping more of us with extra challenges and needs.

Yours supportedly,

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000