If you’ve got a long-term health condition or disability, what can you expect from your Jobcentre in the future?

Masses of people with health conditions and disabilities want to get back to work but help hasn’t always been right for them in the past.  The Government has been consulting on improvements and there are already signs of changes underway:

 Increasing understanding of disability in Jobcentres.

  • By august, local community organisations will be working with Jobcentres: giving expert knowledge, advice and support on disability issues to the Jobcentre staff and improving their understanding of the challenges disabled people face in getting and keeping jobs.
  • There will also be more specialist Disability Employment Advisers amongst Jobcentre staff to increase their colleagues’ disability understanding and help them better assist their clients.

 Additional support.

  • More people with health limitations for work can volunteer for Work Choice support (provided by various contractors).  Places have now been opened up for people who don’t have to be eligible for the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) element of employment and support Allowance (ESA) or the limited capability element of Universal Credit (UC).
  • 1,000 more people with mental health conditions can get up to 6 months help from the Mental Health Service to start and keep new jobs (for those on ESA WRAG and UC due to limited capability for work).
  • New Work and health Programme starts in November this year and will help those with health conditions and disabilities, alongside long-term unemployed people. This replaces the Work Programme which has just stopped taking on new people but anyone already on that programme will still get up to two years of their existing help.

 Increasing job opportunities.

In every Jobcentre area, there will be three specialist advisers targeting small local businesses with the “Small Employer Offer” – explaining what support is available when they employ someone with a long-term health condition or disability.  By building strong relationships with those employers, they’ll be able to give real practical help:   ensuring that people applying for jobs or work experience with the employer are a good fit and helping with claims for Access to Work (ATW).


Access to Work.

This financial help supports eligible people with long-term health conditions or disabilities to take up a job offer and keep existing jobs.


Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube


Can’t see but can cook and dream!

I’m Penny Melville-Brown and have been trying to push the disability boulder up the mountain of public attitudes for years.  So I’m delighted that Disability Talk has invited me to provide this guest blog.

Penny chopping while filming for bakingblind.comIt all started over 20 years ago when I was still serving in the Royal Navy and my eye sight started to go.  They were very good: after being off-sick for a year and with just sight in one eye, I went back to work, got a promotion and carried on even while the other eye was failing. The Navy helped me with flexible hours, getting to work and magnification on my computer even though, like other parts of the military, they weren’t covered by the equality legislation.    When I was finally medically discharged, those years with all sorts of health difficulties gave me the confidence that being blind didn’t stop me working.

But trying to persuade future employers seemed a slim chance until I was lucky enough to link up with others equally passionate about making work a real prospect for disabled people.  So I launched Disability Dynamics: working on employment programmes, equality schemes and trying to change some of our public services.  Over the last few years, I’ve been heavily involved in self-employment as it can be ideal when employers are still reluctant and we may need to keep control of where, when and how we work.  There are some wonderful stories of how people have changed their lives – feeling better and happier.  We were just on the brink of more inclusive support for business start-ups when the recession hit and the Government changed.

Over the years, I’ve heard from lots of people who are hugely frustrated, depressed and isolated because their efforts to get a job just result in repeated rejections.  I’m convinced that there are millions of disabled people who would work if they could but haven’t had the help they need or the opportunities they deserve.  Just pushing them through programmes designed for other long-term unemployed people can seem more about a target-driven process than getting the best from this national resource.  There are still lots of questions  as to whether the forthcoming Work and Health programme will deliver the radically different approach we need – and demolish the ultimate barrier: employers’ attitudes.

With lots of help from those with specialist knowledge about disability and employment, we put together our Steps to Success and Sustainable work models that show that just one organisation will rarely have all the skills and capacity to provide every variation of support.    Our Help to Work partnership showed that multiple organisations embedded in the local community working together can succeed where parachuted national providers may not.

Along the way, there have been many more topics to debate from the disability perspective:

You can see my blogs with lots of images of my flower arrangements and some recipes.  The last gives a clue to my latest venture: Baking Blind.  The cooking videos and recipes are just another way of trying to show that having a disability isn’t the end of the world and that blindness or any other impairment doesn’t stop us doing most things.  I’ve rather optimistically entered an international competition to take the idea around the world.  And I’ll be blogging more recipes over coming months – and about how I’m bashing bowls out of pewter!  One of my taxi drivers has been teaching me some of his dishes and we have a whole range of great bakes for Comic Relief coming next.


Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube


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 www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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

Public health support disability employment

What do you think? • Funding from Public Health is the way to get more disabled people back to work? • Or is strong leadership focused on outcomes for disabled people the real answer to reducing their cost to the State? • Blind design in pewter is OK but the molten metal is probably a step too far!

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has new ideas about using Public Health money to help more disabled people work – it sounds rather like a return to the old DHSS (Department for Health and Social Security for you young ones!).  A key difference is that they suggest that local Councils lead: “holding the budget, brokering or commissioning provision, and being held to account for performance”.

Our Help to Work activities (www.helptowork.org.uk) have already successfully tested the IPPR vision of partnership delivery:  “to draw together a range of services and support – across employment health, housing, skills, substance abuse and so on”.  Our Steps to Success model shows the different types of help that might be needed – and it is clear that no one delivery organisation can do it all.  To succeed, we know that delivery partners often need to adapt their support for disabled clients:

  • Personal.  One-to-one support tailored to individual needs; flexibility about timings, duration and location of support; building in reasonable adjustments and alternative formats from the outset.
  • Holistic.  Able to coordinate a range of different help without clients becoming lost during “hand-offs”.  Reducing “creaming” and “parking” by valuing outcomes other than just jobs/self-employment.
  • Specialist.  Fully trained and experienced staff; case loads planned on client needs rather than the budget.
  • Local.  Recognising that disabled and disadvantaged people can’t or won’t travel; targeting realistic individual travel-to-work labour markets.

This could all look expensive but is far more achievable if cost is spread across the public sector bodies that will reap the benefits.  IPPR suggests funding from DWP, the health sector (about 7% of Public Health funding plus contributions from Clinical Commissioning Groups), European funds plus social investments.  But this may be not ambitious enough.  There is clearly a case for contributions from other parts of the State that will also see benefits from more disabled people in work: From less re-offending, more tax and NI payments, more skills etc.

Localism is core so the IPPR idea of future Combined Authorities taking the lead could be risky: just new levels of bureaucracy amongst Councils covering large areas with little knowledge or experience of employment support across the diversity of disabilities.  Most important is that they don’t waste time and money on re-inventing the wheels that so many of us have been successfully turning for years.  It may be too optimistic to just bolt on new tasks to existing structures that already have long-term priorities.  Instead, many Councils may need new employment support movers and shakers to drive the vision forward.  If all the experience and target-driven culture of Jobcentres, Work Programme and Work Choice have failed, it is going to take more than different funding streams, devolved responsibilities and partnerships to succeed.   Strong leadership focussed on outcomes for disabled people has more chance than simply moving the deckchairs.

The paper’s recommendation to increase the obligations of both employers and employees to return to work is probably overdue but not demanding enough.  Indeed, they seem to suggest that the Equality Act 2010 is failing: “There are also few requirements on employers to make adjustments to work duties or working conditions or to offer an alternative job, to facilitate a return to work”.  Perhaps there needs to be a sanctions regime as tough as that for benefit recipients that is applied to employers’ unlawful behaviour – without having to go to employment tribunals?  A fairer balance of obligations and consequences faced by both employers and employees would be a valuable step forward – but perhaps there is little political appetite for challenging employers when the vulnerable are easier targets.

Click to read the full report

Finally, on the vexed issue of benefit sanctions, surely most of us agree that there need to be some obligations placed on those claiming benefits (“conditionality”) but equally penalties for failing to fulfil such must be fair and just – see the Guardian article

Bouquet of the week.

Disability creativity

Disability creativity

Goes to Fleur for helping me turn my clay models in to useful little pewter objects.  She did all the complicated pouring of molten metal and soldering while I made moulds with Lego.  It was a good start but I’m going to do better.


Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

150216 - Pewter picture with PMB card 2

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.