Can blind people work?

What do you think: Time to employ more visually impaired people as we can do most things but don’t get a fair chance at jobs.

The large range of jobs held by visually impaired people are described in an RNIB report.  Although the report is based on the small sample of people supported by RNIB over several years, it does suggest that:

  • People with sight limitation work across all job sectors.
  • According to the LFS, around 113,000 people of working age in the UK self-report that they are “long-term disabled with a seeing difficulty”.   (RNIB 2014 figures suggest that about 84,000 working age people in the UK are registered as blind or partially sighted.  Hence there are some people whose sightloss will not justify registration and others who elect not to register.)
  • Compared with the general population, people with visual impairments are more likely to be unemployed and to have not worked for longer.

Years ago I led the European Blind Union project to promote visually impaired people at work on their website – the range was huge: from running their own businesses to making coffins!  We can cook (see the American Master Chef winner), run Government Departments and much more in-between.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Work programme fails disabled people

What do you think: Is £1,200 enough to fund help for a disabled person to get back to work? Are other employment support initiatives out-performing the Work Programme in relation to disabled people? If only 15% of disabled people on the Work Programme achieve job outcomes, what happens to the rest?

In June, Inclusion analysed the performance of the Work Programme over the four years since it started:

  • a success for those who are more work ready and receiving JSA;
  • much less successful for those distant from work as, for ESA claimants, less than 15%, and in some cases less than 10%, have achieved a sustained job outcome within two years.
  • They say: “People with a disability and those aged 50 and over are the least successful in getting a job through the Work Programme.”

“Performance for ESA (and disabled people in general) remains low. However, 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.  The original group shows a strong and welcome increase in performance. The second group, with a longer period before being fit for work, continue to have low job outcomes.”

Work Programme outcomes are:

“Women (at 25.6%) have higher Job Outcome rates than men (at 24.1%).

People with a disability (at 15.1%) have low Job Outcome rates. Many people with a disability are in the JSA payment groups as well as in the ESA payment groups.

By ethnicity, BAME participants have slightly higher Job Outcome rates than white participants.

By age, young participants have the highest performance, and the over-50s have the lowest performance.”

“We estimate that DWP has paid providers an average of £1,094 for each participant referred.   The average spend so far is not the same as what the total average spend per participant will be once they have all finished the programme (as some participants are only part-way through their time with providers). We have modelled total spend per participant based on current performance and referrals, and estimate that it will be £1,187.”

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Poor health means poor work prospects

What do you think:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Work help for disabled Scots

What do you think? • Are the answers for people facing complex work barriers similar in both Scotland and England? • Does good employability support focus on clients’ characteristics/needs or commissioning/contractual considerations? • Is Scotland about to change the face of employability support?

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on “Creating a fairer Scotland – Employability Support: a discussion paper” that particularly addresses unemployed people with complex work barriers including disability.

As someone with long experience of supporting disabled people back to work, my main concern with the paper is that it tends to focus on the structures, commissioning etc of employment support rather than the people it seeks to assist.  To look at the support from the client’s perspective,   they will want to know exactly what they can expect (hence standardisation rather than black box variation), what benefits they can expect (e.g. getting a job/self-employment, getting training, improving their health etc), what information will be requested and how it will be used, how long the support will last, the complaint process, what happens if they don’t take part etc.  Essentially, good employment support works when the unemployed person is seen and treated as a valued customer rather than a case generating income for the provider.

All the structural considerations are important, of course, but should be invisible to the customer who should receive the same quality of support regardless of circumstances.  For people at the margins, the ethos of empathy and care can be critical – hence this needs to be more strongly emphasised alongside all the structural considerations.

  1. Complex, multiple work barriers need holistic support.

For most disabled people, their impairment alone is rarely the main barrier to their employment.   Long-term unemployed people will usually be facing other difficulties – some practical (finances, housing, health, personal circumstances), some emotional/attitudinal (lack of confidence, aspiration, motivation), some lack of information/access to a choice of employment support.

We created the Help to Work model based on Mazlo’s Hierarchy of Needs to describe the building blocks needed for successful transition to work.  The model can be used as a supported self-assessment tool for individuals to identify their needs – too often they are the subjects of assessments rather than empowered to undertake themselves.  The model also offers a level of standardisation: the range of support that should be available to any unemployed/economically inactive person – with varying levels of take-up at each stage.

We extended the model to include in-work activities to increase sustainable employability: creating resilience to overcome future life events (e.g. redundancy, onset of ill-health) to maintain work prospects.  This links to the EU “Flexicurity” concept.

  1. Single employment support providers will rarely be able to deliver effective, specialist holistic support – but partnerships can.

Our Help to Work partnership draws together organisations (national and local) able to deliver various elements of the model.  So, for example, there are over 40 providers delivering in one Local Authority area (see and click on Organisations).  Between them, the partners cover each of the back-to-work building blocks with their own specialist expertise.

Creating such a partnership is more than just a directory of their activities.  Joint events, meetings and information sharing help front-line practitioners understand the opportunities available for their clients – and provide the mutual trust and confidence to make referrals.  Training across partners’ delivery teams builds their capacity and knowledge to support those with additional needs e.g. disabled people.

Hence joint delivery, consortia etc can be useful but will only achieve full effectiveness if managed as partnerships  – with partners having parity of roles and responsibilities (as reflected by the EU PARES initiative).

  1. Local delivery recognises the local cultures, labour market and community.

People facing most work barriers are often those least likely to have either the confidence or means to travel far (or at all) to receive employment support.  They need delivery that is very local (and often in their own homes) at least at the outset.  Delivery organisations that parachute in teams for delivery at “central” locations are far less likely to achieve the community penetration (or credibility) needed.  Alongside, providers need detailed understanding of the local economy: there is little benefit in helping people become self-employed if no-one locally can afford their goods/services, nor is there any point delivering training that doesn’t match the forecast of job vacancies.

Employment support also needs to take account of the working history of the area: IT opportunities may have little attraction to unemployed men from a background of heavy industry.

  1. Unemployment may have become the “status quo” – changing improving outcomes is more than writing good CVs.”

People who have multiple work barriers have often learned to accept their lot – and it has become a place of safety with limited risk.    They are likely to be highly resistant to change even if others perceive that change will bring tangible benefits.  These unemployed people will give more weight to retaining their current security and will discount the benefits.  Change is possible but needs to be very gradual to minimise risk and reduce the need for complex information and decision making.  Transition through a series of non-threatening steps is possible e.g. volunteering, permitted work, work placements, job tasters – so that crossing the line to work is just a natural progression rather than life-changing.

  1. Friends rather than advisers, mentors or coaches.

Many people facing complex work barriers also tend to be socially isolated – they need support from others who see them as whole people rather than prospective “outputs”.    In line with the holistic approach above, these clients need individual one-to-one support from people who are empathetic, caring and interested as well as professional.  Front-line practitioners need the personal characteristics, specialist training and appropriate case loads to make this possible.  They must be able to gain client trust and confidence if they are to have any prospect of overcoming the status quo bias described above.

  1. Self-employment must not be forgotten.

With working disabled people being more likely to be self-employed than non-disabled working people, it is vital that this option is available and fully accessible.  People facing complex barriers (whether their health, caring responsibilities or ethnic backgrounds) still encounter employer prejudice/discrimination so that self-employment can be their only option – and also accommodates their personal circumstances.  Creating micro-businesses can have longer term benefits: some may grow/take on their own employees; others will be stepping stones in to mainstream jobs.

But mainstream business support has been very poor in meeting the needs of these clients – the language alone excludes them.  The New Enterprise Allowance scheme is likewise poorly designed for disabled people – with unrealistic timescales, judgemental assessments and mentors lacking disability awareness.

Instead, specialist, bespoke self-employment support can be highly successful (see our Work for Yourself programmes for disabled people – EMDA 2008; WNF 2009-12; ERDF 2012-15).

  1. Design of employment support.

Too often support has been aimed at the “lowest hanging fruit” – those unemployed people who are quick, easy and economic to move in to jobs and so produce the throughput and outcome payments.  Despite the additional funding that has been available for those with more complex needs through the Work Programme and Work Choice, it is clear that the funding model doesn’t incentivise providers to adequately engage or support more complex clients.  As the economy and employment levels improve, it is clear that the simplistic approach will no longer be useful or applicable to the remaining unemployed and economically inactive people.  A new approach is needed that cuts across benefits (for example, about 25% of JSA claimants are disabled people alongside the majority of ESA/IB claimants plus many IS claimants and many others who have abandoned the benefits system).  To meet the needs of those who are least able to utilise Jobcentres, new design needs to be founded on those with the most complex needs – not the common current approach of one-size-fits-most and there may be some add-ons where possible/required. The Help to Work model offers a possibility.  Not every client will need every intervention – and that alone can be motivating and empowering for individuals – but the holistic structure needs to be in place for all from the outset.

  1. Employment support is a pan-government issue.

Many providers of public services (from health and criminal justice systems through Local Authorities to benefits and Jobcentres) all contribute to the success of employment support – and reap the costs if it fails.  Silo-working within one part of government can simply move problems and costs elsewhere in the public finances.  For example, delays in health treatment can result in disabling impairments and job loss  that places demand on benefits and employment support which, if not successful, results in more requiring treatment for mental health conditions and, for some, criminal justice remedies.  Clarity and commitment across Government is vital.  Equally, assessing “value for money” is a pan-government consideration:  disabled people may take longer to return to work with associated higher costs but simply participating in a programme (as with our Work for Yourself project) can reduce visits to GP surgeries, A&E, hospitals while improving social integration/being more positive about the future – all with cost savings.

  1. Providers’ characteristics.

Regardless of their sector, providers need to be assessed on the basis of their record of delivery to the future client groups, the relative funding allocations to management, overheads and direct delivery, the evidenced capacity of their front-line practitioners.  The legal status, whether charity, private company or other, should not be the decisive factor when contracting delivery.

  1. Disabled people.

We are not confident that the consultation paper adequately recognises the situation of many disabled people:

  • Most will be older.  For example, 23% of those aged 50-65.
  • Most will have worked previously but have lost jobs during their health treatment and/or due to employers’ failure to make reasonable adjustments.
  • Many will have out-dated work skills and/or be unable to return to previous work types.
  • Most will have few/no qualifications and limited IT skills – so re-training can be daunting – even if the training bodies can offer flexible, accessible training.
  • Many will have gained mental health conditions (depression, anxiety, and stress) as a consequence of unemployment/impairment.
  • Many will be living in poverty, rely on benefits, face social isolation and family breakdown.
  • Many will have recurring/additional health problems.
  • Most will not consider themselves to be “disabled” and will not have contact with disability-specific organisations.
  • Many would like to get back to work.

Overall, there is considerable demand for employment support – for example, we receive phone calls from all over the UK when our Work for Yourself clients feature on national TV.  But the range of barriers can be very considerable and need substantial creativity and shared determination to overcome.  This type of ethos and understanding of the target client groups’ needs and barriers should be central to the paper and driving solutions before considering delivery structures, commissioning etc.

The consultation is open until 10 October so there’s still time for you to contribute.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

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

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

Helping disabled people to work since 2000