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

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penny@laylands.co.uk

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Disappointing results for Work Programme Merlin standards for sub-contracting.

What do you think:

  • Could Work Programme code of conduct ever improve powerful prime contractors treatment of small back-to-work providers?
  • Should Merlin standard be judged by Work Programme performance rather than provider satisfaction?
  • Are the benefits of partnership working ever achievable within contractual relationships?

The Merlin code of conduct aimed to improve contracting, supply chain management and fair treatment between Work Programme prime contractors and their other employment support sub-contractors – but did it work over the last three years?  The recent review is somewhat equivocal.

The survey sent to over 600 individuals throughout the contracting chain and stakeholders only gained just over 100 responses (19%).

The voluntary sector respondents were rather dubious about the development of an excellent supply chain and fair treatment with over half saying that it had not made any difference to the behaviour of prime contractors. Accredited prime contractors, not surprisingly, were more positive on both scores but less than half (45%) thought the code was worth the cost and effort.

So the jury is out on whether the standard has achieved its aims – and three years may be too soon to judge.  But certainly there is lots of room for improvement for the remainder of the Work Programme and any subsequent use in either national or more local programmes.

Perhaps the acid test is whether the aims and effectiveness of the merlin standard actually made any difference to the performance of the Work Programme – did the accredited prime contractors and more satisfied sub-contractors produce better results for the people they were supporting back to work – or did the standard make little difference?

Having been involved in the EU PARES initiative (all about partnerships in employment support), a key piece of learning was that partnerships with parity of influence on delivery systems were most desirable – but clearly this is more difficult to achieve when money and contractual relationships are involved.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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Strategies for resolving the unemployment of disabled people – ethically and long-term.

What do you think:

DWP doomed to fail on disability unemployment unless other Departments play their part?

Back-to-work help for disabled people is pointless without improving poor health (especially mental) and skills?

Are disabled people “forced to fail” by low success rates of employment support and tough benefit rules?

(Apologies for this being long- would welcome your ideas on what’s missing/wrong)

In the UK, we are squandering the contribution of nearly 20% of the workforce to our national economy: around half of these working age disabled people are not in employment and, for those who are, work tends to be low level, part-time and short-term.  It’s easy to blame employer prejudice and discrimination for costs we all bear from lower economic inactivity and higher disability benefits.  It’s easy to make the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) responsible for putting everything right.  But reality is more complicated and far-reaching.

There is little point in forcing people in poor health to take part in costly return-to-work programmes: their chances of success are very limited and any work they do achieve is likely to be low paid and difficult to sustain – the starting point is to improve their overall health as far as possible (and especially mental health).  The same applies to people with lower education who are about four times as likely as others to be claiming disability benefits – the starting point is to build on their existing work skills and add new ones.  And the same principles apply to every unemployed disabled person regardless of what benefits they are getting – or not.

A key issue is whether the policies are driven by the narrow goal of reducing the numbers/cost of benefit claimants or creating real social and economic change by increasing their employment rates.  All of The latter does more for taxpayers and lifts disability unemployment beyond the reach of just DWP: different Departments across Government (spurred on by the Treasury) have to leap out of their work silos and take strategic collective responsibility across their policies and delivery –it’s what Cabinets are good for!  But in times of financial strain, none of this is likely without an across–the-board cost-benefit analysis and funding regime – it’s the starting point that seems missing for this part of Welfare reform.

And, while all of this is based on UK structures and data, the strategic principles could be relevant to other countries and their economies.

Realising the benefits of more disabled people in good work depends on life-long, society-wide changes:

  • Increase Public Health, education and social initiatives that encourage health and fitness and reduce the occurrence and consequences of the most common impairments.
  • Target health care according to demand (especially mental health), incentivise health professionals with clinical work outcomes and ensure they understand the life consequences of impairments, of delayed treatment, on future poor general and mental health, on worse health outcomes for those with visual and hearing conditions, and on employment prospects.
  • Target life-long learning on people with lower education and low-level jobs as better education reduces the likelihood of disabled people becoming unemployed or claiming benefits and improves their return-to-work prospects.
  • Ensure that the transport infrastructure, staffing and travel concessions are geared to working disabled people.
  • Stop using the criminal justice system to manage disproportionately high levels of disabled people.
  • Ensure that self-employment tax and National Insurance processes plus business start-up support is fully inclusive and accessible as working disabled people are more likely to be self-employed than their non-disabled peers.
  • Target employment in all sectors with the highest risk of causing long-term health conditions and use Health and Safety requirements, the health insurance industry and legislation to improve their performance, retention and re-employment support.
  • Abolish the stigma surrounding impairments (especially around mental ill-health) with more, successful disabled workers – disability prejudice is the largest by far cause of contacts with the UK Government’s Equality Advice and Support Service (EASS).  Imposing costs may have reduced the number of disability discrimination cases going to employment tribunals but they are still the main cause of calls to the EASS.
  • Use the might of public sector employment and its massive procurement spending power to lead by example and exercise financial muscle with contractors to increase employment of disabled people at every level, in every sector – compliance with equality legislation is an added bonus.

Specific action for young people will bring long-term benefits:

  • Ensure all young people stay in education as long as possible, gaining their maximum qualifications, vocational and employability skills.  Disability and unemployment are linked to low skills whereas higher skills are linked to lower levels of disability and better return-to-work/less benefit claimants.
  • Enable schools, colleges etc to make changes so that disabled students reach their full potential: provide adequate funding and effective management of student adjustments/support plus tailored specialist careers advice.
  • Provide mental health care, treatments and therapies as levels of such conditions can be high in youth.

Throughout working lives, interventions can reduce the employment consequences of disability:

  • Target people in low-level, poor quality jobs:
    • Improve their skills and employability so they have better prospects should they acquire an impairment.
    • Provide careers advice and encourage to full-time, permanent, better quality jobs to reduce the risk of unemployment linked to disability and other characteristics (women, age, mental health) – with added bonus of reducing need for Government low-income subsidy.
    • Encourage better health and fitness at work and leisure.
    • Improve Health & Safety protection as low level jobs can have higher risk and so higher general health consequences.
    • Provide easy access to health care (including for mental health) to mitigate occurrence/consequences of most common impairments (moderate pain, muscular skeletal and mental health conditions) noting that poor mental health is linked to low quality jobs.
  • Support employers with:
    • Information and practical help to make the changes needed to retain employees with/acquiring disabilities enabling them to change role/tasks, work locations and hours, equipment and support, information, policies, practices and procedures and so fulfil their legal responsibilities.  In the UK, the Fit for Work occupational health service should assist employers with some of these responsibilities. Target tailored support at small and medium-sized employers that employ the majority of the workforce but have limited organisational resources (rather than larger corporates).
    • Promote and effectively manage legally-compliant, adequate Government funding for workplace changes/support that would be unreasonable for employers of/self-employed disabled people (especially those with mental health conditions)

Notwithstanding the interventions above, some people with long-term health conditions will still have periods of unemployment and need return-to-work help.  Characteristics likely to make that support more successful include:

  • Demand.  Capitalise on existing demand from those already keen to work to achieve early success benefits: persuasive motivational role model examples for positive promotion and publicity to increase further demand and employer buy-in, counter any negative perceptions caused by past employment support and road-test delivery models.
  • Mandatory?  Enforce participation with caution.  Early return-to-work activity can be justified by reducing the mental ill-health, loss of employability and fossilisation of work skills linked to long-term unemployment.  But the enforcement methods must be equitable and productive rather than simply forcing claimants off benefits.  The UK’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and sanctions regime move claimants on to Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) or the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related Activity Group and penalise non-participation.  But justification and effectiveness is less convincing when the WCA itself has been flawed (especially in relation to mental health), when providers of mandatory or voluntary support (Work Programme and Work Choice) “cream” the easiest to progress, while “parking” the more challenging/reluctant, when benefit sanctions are disproportionately applied to ESA claimants and those with mental health conditions and when support lacks the breadth described here.  In these circumstances, mandatory participation and sanctions become counter-productive “enforcement to fail”: unemployment rates show limited reduction, attitudes are further polarised, mental ill–health and psychological barriers increase while those abandoning benefits for economic inactivity are further removed from the prospect of work.  Suggestions of enforcing mental health treatment by threat to benefits flies in the face of “informed consent”.
  • Scope.  Support needs wider capacity than just creating good CVs and job-matching.  It needs to be holistic: encompassing health, housing, finances, personal relationships, work travel, confidence building, training, volunteering and work experience, employment skills, self-employment.
  • Health.  There is little point in funding employment support without interventions to maintain good health/improve poor health (especially mental health). People in poor health have far less chance of returning to work or staying there while those unemployed long-term are more likely to have mental health conditions.
  • Skills.  Likewise, funding employment support that doesn’t improve employability beyond basic skills has little prospect of cost-effective long-term success.  People moving in to low level jobs face all the risks to health and job security outlined above.   Although some will bring psychological barriers and experience of education shortfalls, many will have previous work experience to build upon if training is sufficiently flexible and accommodating of their current circumstances.  Combining practical learning with vocational experience in apprenticeships might merit further development/promotion to break down the disability/low education/unemployment relationship.
  • Attitudes.  Alongside mental health consequences, individuals have many psychological reactions to (the onset of) disability and unemployment ranging from anger to apathy.  Interventions need to re-build self-confidence and esteem, motivation and aspiration while countering status quo bias, isolation and despair. Poor success rates as measured by “forced to fail” policies simply risk reinforcing these barriers.
  • Delivery.  Group delivery and batch processing might seem cheaper but is a form of “creaming” that fails those with more complex barriers requiring help tailored to their individual needs and circumstances.  Instead, personalised support can be more productive: one-to-one, local delivery, non-judgemental, not time bound, recognising a range of individual goals.
  • Specialism.  No single provider is likely to have either sufficient skill or capacity to provide every element of a comprehensive return-to-work model – nor would it probably be cost-effective.  Primary case-workers need to be highly experienced in supporting unemployed disabled people with funded access to other specialists for specific contributions (e.g. health, training, disability-specific interventions/equipment, self-employment etc).  For some conditions, such as severe mental health and learning disabilities, a case worker with appropriate additional skills/experience may be more productive.  The key is that funding agreements (and subsequent contract management) is specific as to access to specialist support and ensures that it happens.  Notwithstanding which, Specialist Employment Support has now been introduced in the UK.
  • Local.  The geographical reach of support can be important for disabled people who lack the capability or means to travel – they may need more local support (often in their own homes initially).  Providers also need knowledge of local cultures, social structures, labour markets plus partnerships with other local support and specialist organisations.  Coordinated funding of local delivery can realise best value and eradicate silo-working, mismatched eligibility and success criteria, incoherent management information plus gaps and duplications.
  • Funding.  Any employment support provider is going to cream the quick wins but must be disincentivised from doing so to the cost of individuals placed in poor, unsustainable jobs and those parked as more difficult to assist. The significance of “failure” goes beyond the psychological and mental health consequences for the individual to undermine employer confidence, policy competence and taxpayer credibility. More subtle funding and sanctions structures are required: equitable and geared to the degree of need/complexity; rewarding a range of positive outcomes other than work; balancing costs in some Departments (health, education) with savings elsewhere (benefits, criminal justice) and acknowledging increased tax and National Insurance takings, broader economic improvements etc.

Source material.  Some of the supporting data gathered from recent reading and blogs:

  • About 20% of the working age population are disabled people.
  • Most disabled people acquire their disability during their working lives rather than at birth/as children.
  • Propensity for disability (especially physical impairments) increases with age (under 4% for 16-24 year olds to about 23% for 50-65 year olds ONS.
  • In 2013, there were about 2.3 million disabled people who were unemployed.  They outnumber and cost more than those receiving Job Seekers Allowance.
  • In 2013, disabled people who reported that their primary impairment was a mental health condition made up 26.9% of all disabled unemployed people and 18.5% of all disabled working age people.
  • People with lower education are about four times more likely to claim disability benefits than those with higher education.
  • People with poor health are less likely to get back to work and, if they do, are less likely to sustain jobs.
  • Since 2008, the employment rate for disabled people has been about 31% lower than for non-disabled people; the economic inactivity rate for disabled people has been similarly around 31% higher than for non-disabled people.
  • Unemployed disabled people aren’t just those claiming Employment and Support Allowance or Incapacity Benefit.  It has been estimated that about 25% of Job Seeker Allowance claimants have disabilities, others are claiming Income Support and more are not claiming any benefits at all.
  • Regarding the Work Programme:For Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants the DWP’s original minimum standard was to ensure at least 22% of those who had completed the Work Programme achieved job outcomes (lasting at least three months). By the end of March 2014, only 11% had. The DWP now predicts this measure to rise only to 14% by the current end of the Work Programme—March 2016 … ESA sanctions for those within the Work Programme also far exceed job outcomes.”
  • Regarding Work Choice: less than a third of the volunteers joining the scheme achieved a work outcome
  • Disability discrimination concerns make up over 60% of all contacts to the Government’s Equality Advice and Support Service (the dramatic reduction in tribunal cases reflects the new costs to claimants).  Mental health conditions continue to be amongst those carrying most stigma.
  • 1 in 4 UK adults have mental health problems each year – ONS.
  • Ministry of Justice data shows that the level of disabled people in prison is nearly double that in the wider population.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

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 www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

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 www.helptowork.org.uk 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 www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

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

Voluntary work threatened by benefit sanctions.

Did you know? Contractors funded to run the Government’s compulsory community work seem to be passing the buck to volunteer organisations.

When unemployed people complete two years on the Work Programme without getting back to employment, they are put on to the Government’s Help to Work programme that includes mandatory community work: they will have their benefits stopped if they don’t do the work. Various contractors are being funded to provide the training and arrange the community work. But it seems that some are trying to use the voluntary sector to run those work placements – without passing on any of the funding.
This raises a key principle: voluntary work is exactly what it says on the tin. Being required to work at the risk of social security benefits is quite different. Is it ethical for voluntary organisations to be required to report “volunteers” who don’t show up?
Equally important is the quality and effectiveness of community work. By definition, all of these people will have been out of work for at least 2 years and often much longer. They have not been able to get jobs despite the support of Work Programme professionals so community work is likely to require even more effort and supervision to prepare them to succeed on the job market. Such support takes time, skill and experience so it’s not without cost. And this doesn’t even take in to account that a sizeable proportion of the community workers are likely to have additional needs due to health conditions/disabilities. It seems inescapable that either those contracted to manage the community work need to provide this support or they need to pass on the right proportion of their funding to whoever takes on the community workers. Already, in some areas, voluntary sector organisations are rejecting involvement in community work because of the ethics and because they don’t have the resources to fulfil the contractors’ responsibilities. Perhaps this policy is at risk of foundering because the detail of delivery hasn’t yet been fully worked out?

140709 - Apple tree

uquet of the week. Apple tree

I have just celebrated 30 years in the same house. Built in about 1880, it still has lots of original Victorian features but has also evolved over the years: new rooms, garden landscaping and interior decorating. Here’s a picture of one of the apple trees that has survived from the orchard on which the house was built – It must have been planted in the mid 1800s and still produces wonderful Cox’s Pippins for tarte Tatin.

Yours long-termly!

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000