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  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  You might agree or not but tell the Government what you think of their proposals – deadline is 17 February 2017 to

Happy reading!

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube

Status Quo bias and disability

Did you know? • Staying on benefits can seem the safe, easy option if work prospects look too difficult and risky. • Status quo bias: sticking in your “comfort zone” even when it’s not comfortable. • Cut unemployment: offer a new status quo with real benefits, reduce risk and failures, and make change easy. • Psychology plays a part in long-term unemployment.

A BBC Radio 4 programme caught my ear when it explained people can resist change even when it will improve their lives due to their “status quo bias”.  Could this be a factor when supporting people back to work after long-term unemployment (often due to ill-health/disability)?

Like fellow practitioners, I’ve talked about building motivation, aspiration, self-confidence etc but hadn’t considered that there might be other strong psychological bias that needs to be addressed.

My layman’s understanding is that status quo bias can be the driving factor when people prefer to stick with what they know rather than make a change.  This can even occur when the change offers real benefits.    Just applying logic may not overcome the bias so we need to use a combination of other methods (many of which will already be familiar):

  • Offer a different status quo.  At the general level, when everyone talks about high rates of unemployment and “benefit cheats”, it’s easy to accept that this is the norm.  Instead, we can offer the more positive reality that 50% of disabled people already work and another 25% would if they could – and that benefit fraud amongst disabled people is very low.  At the individual level, new activities, life experiences, community involvement and more can start changing a couch-potato out-of-work lifestyle. Role models and peer-to-peer interactions offer a new sense of what could become normal life.
  • A true “Better-Off” calculation.  If someone has already had to adapt to a way of life that is “good enough”, they may need very strong incentives before giving up and changing what they have learned to accept.  Status quo bias can mean that people place more importance on what they might lose if they make a change than on the benefits they might gain.  Previously, “Better Off” calculations have focussed on the financial impact of returning to work.  But there may be other persuasive advantages to be gained: holistic, realistic, robust and personally-relevant benefits.  These might include: longer term growth of finances on the new career ladder, new colleagues and friends, feeling more optimistic about the future, not bored by being stuck at home, managing health better, more independence etc.
  • Reduce risk of a wrong decision.  People are often aware of the disadvantages of their existing status quo but prefer this to the risk of change.  And when that change is already being resisted, it is even more unlikely if current apparent advantages could be lost and future gains are uncertain.  Moving back to work shouldn’t be a gamble but as risk-free as possible.    This could range from testing the water through volunteering and work experience/placements, continuing assistance once in employment,  supportive employers who provide workplace adjustments, Access To Work funding for equipment, support workers and more plus continuing help to further develop long-term employability (follow the link and click on Steps to sustainable success).  And a straight-forward way of reverting to the status quo of previous benefits gives the parachute reassurance if the wings come off.
  • Success rather than failure.  I worry about all those people who have not achieved a job through the various employment programmes out there.  An experience of “failure” is more likely to reinforce their reluctance to attempt change again in the future.  Perhaps funding regimes need to penalise providers who don’t achieve some level of success for every client?
  • Make change easy.  When there’s lots of information to weigh up, different choices to be balanced and complicated decisions to be made, just sticking with what is familiar rather than change is the easiest option – especially when life is currently “good enough”.  A straightforward, step-by-step progression that flows towards the change is more likely to be productive – nudging people from inertia and along a safe path rather than precipitating a leap in to the unknown.

Read more about status quo bias.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Social Security Silo

What do you think? • Social security: insurance or investment? • Good social security: supporting people when they fall on hard times or stopping them fall in the first place?

I think that the second option must be right but, as the paper by Will Horwitz explains, the short-term and Departmental-silo approach of Government spending structures has pushed us to the insurance after-the-fall answer.  And the insurance model can mean that benefit payments may simply end up subsidising other parts of the economy without making enough of a positive difference for the claimants:

  • Working Tax Credits subsidise low paying employers to the tune of around £27bn a year;
  • about £24bn goes in Housing Benefits to landlords and their increasing rents;
  • a sizeable proportion of about £26bn disability provision (nearly equally split between DLA/PIP and incapacity benefits –ESA, IB etc)   will be attributable to employers failing to make adjustments for employees who acquire long-term health conditions (and the author later suggests that some £34bn  are spent each year on benefits related to illness and disability).

Child Benefit (£12bn) that can offset the costs of raising the next generation is sizeable enough but just £5bn on JobSeekers Allowance seems paltry!

So what are the solutions?  More housing might reduce rents (but increase the number of landlords), higher wages might reduce the need for WTC (and benefit savings could be passed to employers through the tax system), more preventative health care might reduce disability (with benefit savings transferred to Public Health), better sanctions on employers might improve retention (and funds raised be used for disability employment support).

The paper suggests a social investment approach that builds human capital: “We picture a society which is defined … by reference to its strengths. Its people are ready and able to benefit from opportunity, to learn at primary school, to thrive in secondary, they are job-ready at 17 and when the time comes they are ready and able to be good parents. Because we all experience difficulties at some point in our lives, they are ready and able also to manage adversity – to cope with losing a job or a relationship, to rebuild after illness or bereavement, to adapt to change”.   The investment model would need changes to current Government funding structures: longer-term and recognition that more money/activity in one area will reap benefits elsewhere – a holistic cross-Departmental rather than silo approach.

In contrast, our current social security system seems to be the sticking plaster that attempts to reduce the impact of faults elsewhere in society but often don’t provide a cure, especially when it is late by design or inefficiency. Waiting for social security can make the patient worse: increasing stress, impacting on mental health, breaking down family support systems, compounding financial difficulties, distracting from job search, reducing the likelihood of returning to work after sickness and more.  Sanctions provide an example of how the current system may be counter-productive: most of the recent increase in sanctions is due to claimants just not understanding their conditions rather than deliberately flouting them.   The result is increasing numbers leaving the benefit system but still not finding work.

The final two chapters of the paper are particularly interesting to anyone concerned with practical employment support:

  • Assume willingness – of people to comply, seek work, improve their lives etc.
  • Provide early interventions – ideally before current employment is jeopardised either by sickness or because jobs are low-paid and insecure.
  • Provide rapid access to support before networks, health, motivation etc break down.
  • Provide more universal support – avoiding eligibility criteria, stigmatisation etc (but universal eligibility shouldn’t mean universal delivery methods that don’t cater for individual needs).
  • Sustain and develop individual’s social relationships networks which amplify support and increase employment opportunities.
  • Incentivise sustainable employment.
  • Devolve employment support to Local Authorities with strong links to local employers and providers and incentivise them further with a share of benefit savings.

You can read the whole paper here

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

Bouquet of the week.

To school friend Maggie who took the time to visit me after nearly 27 years.  She is a triumph of survival: ill-health, challenging relationships plus ill and ageing parents.    Still planning for the future, using her talents and nurturing her family – what an example!

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000