Making Tax Digital may not make it easier for everyone.

What do you think:

  • Doing tax returns on line is a breeze?
  • No need to worry because your accountant does it all?
  • Perhaps you might need to tell HMRC if digital tax is going to be difficult?

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Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is planning a new approach that should end all that form filling each year to tell them about what you’ve earned, received in interest and other income so that your tax can be worked out.    By getting regular information from employers, banks and building societies, they will have lots of the information already so that you just need to add anything extra – and all this will be possible through a computer or smart phone – meaning that you can see at any time what you might need to pay in tax.  Self-employed people and businesses will also have a better and up-to-date idea of their tax situation by sending HMRC regular information and getting their own tax forecasts –again, all possible on-line.

You can read about their proposals in a series of consultation documents.  I recommend “Better use of information” for anyone and “Simplifying tax for unincorporated businesses” and “Bringing business tax in to the digital age” for those running their own businesses –they give examples of how the new system will work. There are other documents too for those who want to look at more detail.

But sending and getting financial and tax information on-line may not suit everyone – especially if using computers or smart phones is difficult because of a disability or other circumstances so it is worth checking out their proposals and telling HMRC what you like and what you don’t.  You can send comments to them until 7 November 2016 by e-mailing:  processtransformation.mtd@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.

Below are the comments I have sent in – if you are short of time, feel free to use any of this in your own response.

Overview:  The concept of MTD has many merits but the paucity of equality (and especially disability) considerations places the initiative at risk.  It is not clear how current proposals and potential law will satisfy the judgement in Bishop & Others v HMRC Commissioners [2013] 522 UKFTT).  If these changes don’t work for “ordinary working class people”, the Department will undermine the Prime Minister’s statements and, probably more importantly, fail to produce the increased tax, lower costs and public endorsement needed.

The following comments relate to the principles of five of the 6 MTD consultation documents (plus some comments on delivery detail).

  1. Better use of information.

Principles.  It is very surprising that HMRC has already concluded that MTD will not have “a significant or disproportionate impact” on people with protected characteristics when the Department has neither undertaken an equality impact assessment nor specifically asked questions about such in any of the consultation papers.

The stated percentage of people with access to digital tools is without reference to the source data or context and appears, wholly erroneously, to be linked with whether customers are digitally excluded.  While the MTD principles are sound, they are substantially undermined by the lack of data and detail about those customers who will encounter most difficulties (for whatever reason) in adopting MTD.  In this post-Brexit fragile economy, giving high priority to those most likely to be disadvantaged is likely to improve the system for all and make better political, social and economic sense.

While increasing numbers of people have access to digital devices, many avoid using such in relation to their finances due to the very high level of on-line fraud.  HMRC needs to present a stronger description of the security measures before such is convincing.  Likewise, personal security of passwords and security codes is increasingly risky as people now have so many – security alternatives or guidance on secure storage using IT should be available.  Ideally, customers should have one code for all interactions with Government.

Delivery detail.  Frequent system-generated prompts have a high risk of being ignored by customers who have to separately find and enter passwords/security codes just to discover information of little value/action. Customers should be able to switch off prompts except those requiring action to comply with the law but with options to receive prompts that are to their benefit, for information etc.  Many will not want any contact unless something has gone wrong.

Third party information (including that from other Government Departments) should always include specific account details and payment dates, percentages attributable to joint account holders and should be in the standard format contained in their own Equality Act-compliant notifications to customers to facilitate checking by those customers.  Employees should be able to confirm that current NI is being paid by their employers.

Obviously MTD requires testing with various adaptive soft and hard ware of varying vintages across the full spectrum of broadband speeds.  On-line instructions and guidance should be capable of downloading in various formats (e.g. large print from a Word document) for ease of referral.  Use of on-line links and text boxes can be difficult with some adaptive software.  For some people, transferring a security code to a screen text box will be very difficult – the option to receive via e-mail should be available.  Digital tax account displays should be very simple and accessible with all types of adaptive software.

HMRC must also utilise the same short-cut key strokes as Microsoft e.g. Control P to print – otherwise, they would be requiring those using such with adaptive software to learn yet another keyboard “language”.

  1. Simplifying tax for uninc businesses.

Universal Credit (UC) is mentioned in this document (and elsewhere) but full implementation  may be subject to further delays hence MTD should take account of interactions with Working Tax Credits, Housing Benefit, ESA “permitted work”, New Enterprise Allowance, potentially Access To Work and possibly other benefits/payments.  The proposals would be significantly strengthened by DWP and HMRC commitments regarding payment reporting and timescales both before and after full UC implementation – again, giving high priority to those most likely to be disadvantaged.

  1. Simplified cash basis for uninc property business.

(Not read)

  1. Bringing business tax in to the digital age.

With self-employment at an historic high  plus the post-BREXIT economic uncertainty and recession risk, considerable care is needed to avoid many small businesses (regardless of legal status) failing due to the pressures of MTD – and so increasing the numbers of unemployed/benefit claimants.    If MTD becomes just too difficult and/or too expensive, people may just give up – creating unacceptable political, social and economic risk.

Consequently, every aspect of MTD introduction should be tested at the level of the most vulnerable businesses – rather than the scenarios currently used.

Many of these businesses will barely use IT for business, may need to purchase new hard and software and, most importantly, learn how to use it.  This represents burdens in time, cost and business owners’ confidence and commitment.  The proposals in this area are not yet sufficiently developed with cross-Departmental input.  For example, there is no mention of how all New Enterprise Allowance providers (or similar other projects) will be required to deliver MTD training, how Access To Work funded support workers will be upskilled or on how other agencies (local Councils, Skills Funding Agency and more) will support the implementation.

HMRC can obviously identify those self-employed and other businesses that currently have no or very limited IT interactions   with the Department but it is not clear how this consultation or any concept testing has been undertaken directly with such customers.  This would also provide a more meaningful assessment as to whether the proposed £10K threshold for mandatory MTD is meaningful and realistic, how it relates to WTC, Housing Benefit, UC, personal tax allowances and how it will be automatically adjusted in line with the wider economy.  Direct concept testing with the most vulnerable would also amplify the “other reasons” justifying MTD exemption.

Recognising the Government’s goal of halving the disability employment gap and that working disabled people are more likely to be self-employed than their non-disabled peers, there is little evidence that their needs have been sufficiently addressed.  It is not evident that Government has been successful in achieving compliance with the Equality Act regarding reasonable adjustments, accessibility or information available in alternate formats across either its own digital products or the external software developers with which it works.  This tends to undermine any suggestions that systems will be fully inclusive for those with additional needs –whether due to low literacy, numeracy or IT skills or reliance on adaptive technology.

Overall, it is disappointing that HMRC does not report what evidence it holds showing that MTD will have no significant or disproportionate impact on customers with Equality Act characteristics.  Proliferation of SMART phone ownership is surely not a convincing basis upon which to rely upon in gauging those owners’ ability to use such for MTD?

  1. Tax administration.

Setting aside the issues of deliberate cheating or aggressive tax avoidance, it might be expected that an aim of MTD to reduce the levels of non-compliance, errors, late submissions/payments etc. would be supported by evidence of current performance and goals set for improvement.  These would seem to be basic measures for assessing the value of introducing MTD and its long-term effectiveness.

Additionally, compliance data relevant to different groups of individuals (for example, by protected characteristics) and/or types/sizes of businesses plus current means of filing would demonstrate HMRC Equality Act duties while highlighting risk areas for non-compliance by volume, value and such characteristics.

This would then assist MTD design to mitigate risk and improve performance.

  1. Voluntary payment.

The business finance rationale of voluntary tax payments far in advance of their due date requires strengthening if reductions in working capital, loss of interest and demonstrable assets is to be justified.  For those with most need to budget for their tax, there is a risk that such payments could become analogous to pre-payment utility meters with the associated adverse publicity

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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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

Disabled Entrepreneurs Smash Targets

Disabled people smash self-employment project targets with over 80 new businesses and over 70% still trading 12 months later. I’ve been quiet for several weeks bringing our Work for Yourself project to a close .  This is what we achieved :

A scheme that helps people with long-term health conditions or disabilities get back into work has been hailed a huge success after over 80 new businesses were set up over the last three years.

The specialist ‘Work for Yourself’ programme exceeded all its targets and supported many people to happier and more fulfilled lives.

Funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Bolsover District and Chesterfield Borough Councils, the project has helped many businesses to become established and seen a 70% sustainability rate over the last 12-months.

Project-lead Penny Melville-Brown of Disability Dynamics said, “We celebrated the enthusiasm and achievements of these newly self-employed people earlier in June: it was an evening of laughter and even some tears as people talked about how the project had been ‘life changing’.”

Freelance writer Leonie Martin described how she has already had three books published alongside articles in local and specialist media despite her multiple sclerosis.

Noreen Maynard gave a demonstration of the Emotional Freedom Technique therapy she offers and Trevor Johnson was hugely enthusiastic about the ‘spider web’ climbing frame he had constructed with his recycled safety nets.

Working can still be a struggle with a health condition but Davina Bates continues with her knitting even when she has to stay in bed and her ‘reborn dolls’ are selling well. Overall, her sales are already four times her original forecast.  Award-winning David Harding is pursuing new contracts and will be featured in the next series of the BBC’s ‘Saints and Scroungers’ due for broadcast in October.

Penny added, “The pictures of the event and products such as Estelle Winfield’s wedding novelties were all taken by Catherine Foster who is setting herself up as a photographer.  One of the big successes for us is that quite a few of the new business owners are now thinking about taking on others as their ventures grow – their versatility, determination and creativity is just remarkable.”

The new businesses have resulted in many new full and part-time jobs and are increasingly contributing to the local economy. Although some of the project’s participants decided that self-employment wasn’t for them, nearly 50 have gone on to get jobs or moved in to training.

Bolsover District Council’s Leader, Councillor Ann Syrett said, “We were very proud to host the celebration and are delighted so many people have benefitted from the scheme. We have been leaders in offering this alternative work opportunity and it has paid real dividends for our communities.

“For the BBC to repeatedly showcase our local successes demonstrates what a success the project has been and that the demand for Work for Yourself-type support is growing across the country.”

Councillor John Burrows, Chesterfield Borough Council’s leader and cabinet member for regeneration, said: “Having a disability or long term health problem should not prevent people from having the opportunity of a fulfilling and productive career.

“The Work For Yourself programme has helped several Chesterfield residents develop the confidence and skills needed to succeed in running their own business.”

“We are pleased to have been part of this partnership project which, as the case studies show, has changed the lives of the people taking part.”

Amongst 326 English local authority areas, Bolsover district has the fourth highest level of disabled people and Chesterfield Borough is not far behind, and both areas fall below the national level of self-employed disabled people, this project has made a strong contribution to improving their prospects.

You can read more about other businesses helped by the programme at www.businessability.co.uk.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

WFY team - new entrepreneurs with their advisers

Work for Yourself team – new entrepreneurs with their advisers

Self-employment test disadvantages disabled

Did you know? • Self-employed may need to show “commercial and profitable, genuine and effective” businesses to get Working Tax Credits. • Self-employed may need to pay themselves the minimum wage for 16-30 hours per week to get Working Tax Credits.

Following the Chancellor’s 2014 Autumn Statement, I raised the following query with HMRC:

From April 2015, self-employed WTC claimants will need to register with HMRC as self-employed.  Those declaring income less than the equivalent of working 24 hours per week at the national minimum wage will also be required to provide evidence to HMRC that the work they are undertaking is “genuine and effective”.  My concern is around disabled people who are working fewer hours – some will be doing so on “permitted work” and still receiving benefits while others may be getting their businesses started or may never work over 16 hours due to their health

The following response has been recently received:

“The Autumn Statement 2014 announced the introduction of a ‘genuine and effective work test’ to ensure that only people meeting the conditions of tax credit entitlement are able to benefit.  In the 2015 Budget the Government has announced that, after further consideration, a revised test will be applied so that in order to qualify for WTC a self-employed claimant will need to be carrying on an activity which is “commercial” and “profitable” or working towards profitability, and is organised and regular.

The test will be applied to the working hours requirement used to qualify for working tax credit as a self-employed claimant.  The working hours requirement will vary between 16 and 30 hours depending on a claimants circumstances in line with the current working tax credit rules. The hours requirement is 16 hours for those entitled to the disability element of working tax credit.

If earnings from self-employment fall below an amount equivalent to the working hours requirement x National Minimum Wage (NMW) per week, claimants may be asked to provide evidence to HMRC that their work is commercial and profitable, organised and regular.    HMRC may ask to see business records and, or further supporting documents such as a business plan, future cash flow and profit projections, trade specific documents or information on what work there is in the pipeline.”

Newly self- employed will need to demonstrate how they intend to carry on their self-employment on a commercial basis and how their self-employment will become profitable, organised and regular.

The revised test aligns more closely with principles already established in tax case law on whether a person is self-employed and also the self-employment test used for both Tax Free Childcare and Universal Credit.”

Over recent years there has been an exceptional increase in people becoming self-employed – and many may have been claiming WTC.  There is already concern in some areas that these micro-businesses may have limited sustainability due to individuals’ lack of preparedness (inadequate market research, marketing, business planning, ability to manage financial records and more).  This additional requirement for those claiming WTC may increase the pressure – and test how effective New Enterprise Allowance and other business support provision has been in creating sustainable businesses.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Self-Employment for disabled people

What do you think: • Is self-employment for disabled people just about new businesses or broader cost/benefit goals? • Generic business start-up advice isn’t difficult to tailor for disabled people with the right approach and advisers? • Is the bubble of self-employment sustainable or will it burst without support?

Not surprisingly, having run self-employment programmes for disabled people since 2008, I am rather more convinced  about the value of this work route than the academic paper provided to the OECD.    While new businesses are a great outcome, disability self-employment programmes have the potential to make much bigger social impact.

The paper draws on a range of research reports and found that, like the UK, working disabled people in Europe are more likely to be self-employed than others.  This should be reason enough for ensuring that business start-up support is inclusive and tailored for them.  But this certainly isn’t always the case so that disabled entrepreneurs may flourish despite, rather than because of, “mainstream” business support.  Just imagine how many more could succeed if their needs were met!

For example, our client-based Work for Yourself programme has been delivered over recent years to large numbers of clients with very different impairments and needs.  The trick is to make it relevant and appropriate:

  • The advice:  start-up advice is always likely to be fairly generic.  But it needs to be tailored:
    • for the client group –  concise,  jargon-free, written at the appropriate reading level,  bite-sized, available in alternative formats etc ;  one-to-one help delivered locally, not time-bound or following a prescribed format. Continuous satisfaction surveys check if we are meeting their needs.
    • For the likely businesses – proportionate to the size of the business (no/few employees, low turnover etc) but still covering the essentials (financial records and tax, marketing, insurance etc).
    • The advisers: ours have professional qualifications and many years experience working with this client group so have deep understanding of the benefits system, different impairment needs and the range of other personal circumstances  which all contribute to business success.
    • Inclusive approach: avoiding judgement of business viability or individual capacity but enabling clients to make their own decisions; including people with any form of impairment; enabling participation and progress at client’s pace etc.
  • Research and data: There is no doubt that there has been limited study of self-employment for disabled people.  Some of our work for EMDA is reflected in this recent academic paper.  We also have the information from 6 subsequent years of delivering the Work for Yourself programme plus contextual local population data for further research if helpful.

But we would also argue that self-employment programmes for disabled people have the potential for much broader social benefit.  The prospect of working for yourself can be a means of engaging people who are long-term unemployed, face employer prejudice and see little prospect of getting a job.  Self-employment offers control, flexibility plus the chance of getting off benefits and personal fulfilment.      Many of our clients are now running sustainable businesses.  But the outcomes for others are equally valuable:

  • Some clients step from self-employment in to jobs – often with their primary customers who have seen their enterprise and abilities.
  • Some use the personal development aspects of our programme to re-focus their ambitions and achieve jobs.
  • For others, the process helps them identify skills gaps so they take up vocational training.
  • For many, participation improves their health and well-being plus social integration.

I see self-employment support as opening a door to many possibilities and that starting a business is only one measure of success.  Consequently, policy makers need to consider enterprise for disabled people in a more realistic and much broader cost/benefit context.

On a broader topic, more people have moved in to self-employment than jobs in the UK in recent years.  There are those who have started new businesses, some chose this type of work rather than retiring   while others may have legally-fragile self-employment status.    Many will be the result of the Government’s New Enterprise Allowance scheme for unemployed people.

Now we need all that self-employment to be sustainable but there is a risk that the support that individuals received in the early stages was not adequate or long-term enough.    There are lots of schemes to upskill the workforce but support for businesses tends to be largely focussed on those considered to have “high growth” potential to contribute to GDP etc.

Most self-employed people need simpler help. HMRC has lots of sole trader tax and finance material (HMRC Key Messages February 2015)   but many may not be aware or able to use it.    However, the more pressing need is to make the new businesses sustainable: develop their goods and services, extend their customer base etc   – low growth that keeps people off benefits.  Stronger coordination between HMRC, DWP and BIS is probably the answer.

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

Bouquet of the week.

To mark Holocaust remembrance – for all those who were lost then and those facing similar fates now.

Following the pub lunch last week, the tenant landlord was proudly telling us about the squirarchy that still controls a local village: even the colour of the front doors is prescribed.  He was rather more sotto voce about the tenancy control that meant that there were no ethnic minority residents.  And then we spotted the youth in a jacket bedecked with Union and England flags.  We agreed that this is probably not a place for repeat custom.

Yours staggered-that-this-still-goes-on,

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

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 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