Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 13

Memorandum by Mencap

Summary of Recommendations

1. The Single Work Focused Gateway should not treat people with learning disabilities as a homogenous group. The Gateway must be geared to an individual's need.

2. Mencap recommends that certain categories of disabled people with the greatest support needs and full time carers should not be compelled to attend an interview at the Gateway.

3. Claimants will need to be assured that information volunteered in response to questions on employment prospects should not be misused to review benefit entitlements. The flow of information between personal advisers and benefits adjudication officers should be clearly demarcated. The Single Work Focused Gateway is part of the claims process but it will not help anyone if eliciting an expressed interest in work is taken to imply capacity for work.

4. Mencap is concerned that in describing interviews as "work focused" the Government may be placing disproportionate priority on getting people into paid employment at the expense of other kinds of support, such as entitlement to benefits. Personal advisers should also encourage people to claim disability and additional benefits and in-work benefits to which they may be entitled.

5. Mencap recommends that a disabled claimant should have the option of being referred to either a dedicated specialist personal adviser for a discussion on work and access to appropriate benefits or a dedicated specialist adviser for a discussion on access to and take up of disability-related benefits alone. Disabled claimants should not be referred to a mainstream personal adviser.

6. A Single Work Focused Gateway staff member, responsible for the registration and orientation of the people with learning disabilities, will act as an ambassador for the Gateway. There is a need to take account of the high profile of the project and recruit staff of a sufficiently high calibre who are able to handle complex situations.

7. Systems need to be put in place to deliver a comprehensive package of training in learning disability awareness based on explicit standards for all those responsible for the assessment and subsequent placement into jobs and retention of people with learning disabilities.

8. Personal advisers should be encouraged to develop specialist areas of knowledge on disability matters. Personal advisers should be expected to pool good practice and provide support and advice to each other as well as building links with disability organisations dealing with particular client groups. Personal advisers who successfully engage with people with learning disabilities should be championed.

9. It is important to recognise that it is unworkable to expect disabled people with intellectual or communication difficulties to attend an interview without support. It is important that a person with a learning disability is permitted to be accompanied by a parent, relative or advocate to a work focused interview.

10. Clear guidance should be issued stating that capacity to undertake unpaid or therapeutic work does not equate to capacity to undertake paid employment and should not trigger a reassessment of their capacity to work.

11. Mencap recommends that personal advisers develop links with specialist employment organisations in their locality. The extent to which such links are developed should be monitored and published.

12. A meeting should be held to compile a job search profile for the individual. The concept of employability rather than full time, paid employment is a more useful starting point for personal advisers working with people with learning disabilities who are keen to enter the labour markets or in danger of losing their current employment.

13. Mencap recommends that regional and local capacity should be established to enable disability organisations, such as Mencap's Pathway Employment service, to maximise their contribution to the Gateway.

14. Mencap recommends that disability organisations which play a role in the delivery of the Gateway are guaranteed a proportion of their contact income in order to lessen the risk, and encourage involvement. Funds should not follow the clients or be based on outputs.

15. Mencap fears that the lack of capacity in the voluntary sector, including disability organisations may lead to contracts being awarded to big training providers who are geared up to bidding.

16. Mencap calls on the Government to clarify the relationship between New Deal (volunteers for work) and the Single Work Focused Gateway (benefit claimants).

17. Mencap urges the Government to evaluate the personal adviser pilot schemes comprehensively by making explicit the outcomes on which they will judge the schemes success.

18. A personal adviser will need to ensure that a person with learning disabilities is provided with ongoing and appropriate support in the workplace. Support should be extended to employers and employees in relation to matters of retention and adaptation to changing conditions and work practices, as well as publicising Access To Work.

19. Mencap recommends that prior to the national introduction of the Single Gateway, the Government, in consultation with disability groups, produces a booklet setting out a number of quality standards relating to the support and advice extended to people with disabilities, including learning disabilities.

20. Mencap would caution against internal targets such as the number of interviews conducted in a week by a personal adviser or a target of a specified number of people entering work. Targets should include positive measures such as setting more people in contact with the labour market, the consequence with may be reduction in expenditure, or ensuring that people with learning disabilities are claiming all their benefits.

21. Mencap urges the Government to evaluate the personal adviser pilot schemes comprehensively by making explicit the outcomes on which they will judge the schemes a success. Successful outcomes will differ tremendously from claimant to claimant, and it is not appropriate to have a reduction of claimants on a particular benefit as a target.

Mencap would also caution against other output related targets such as the number of interviews conducted in a week by a personal adviser or a target of a specified number of people entering work.

1. Introduction

The aspirations of people with learning disabilities are higher today than they have ever been. They are demanding their rights in all areas of life including education, training and employment. Increasingly, the expectation on many young people with learning disabilities is that they will go to college and that from there, will choose to continue their progression onward into employment.

"Many people with learning disabilities would like to work. This is for the same reasons that other people seek employment; it increases their income, their independence, their sense of purpose and contribution. their status and self respect." from Building Expectations, The Mental Health Foundation, 1996.

Mencap's experience of client requirements puts employment opportunities at the top of the list for those able to express a choice. Reasons for this are stated as: to increase income, to further independence, to have a sense of purpose in life, to contribute to the economic well being of the country; to gain status and to achieve dignity and self esteem. By definition people with learning disabilities need support in order to learn and develop new work skills and tasks. They tend to learn new skills at a different and usually slower pace. But people with learning disabilities can learn and ultimately achieve levels of performance comparable to non-disabled peers. Indeed, the biggest obstacle for people with learning disabilities with the potential to earn a living is not lack of skills, it is a lack of people believing in them.

Mencap is pleased by the emphasis the Government has placed on giving greater support to people, including those with disabilities, to find work, whilst reiterating the commitment that the welfare state should support those who are unable to do so 90 per cent of people with severe learning disabilities of working age are not in paid work, and those who are working are commonly in part time low paid work Mencap's research has shown that there are many people with learning disabilities who would like to work and that more people could be supported into work, but event doubling the current proportion of people with severe learning disabilities in work would still leave 80 per cent without work.

People with learning disabilities who are able to enter employment tend to be concentrated in low skilled, low waged jobs. Their disability may mean that they are only able to work part-time. They may spend frequent periods out of the labour market because of discrimination or ill health. There are people with substantial learning disabilities who, if jobs were available, and if appropriate resources were invested, might secure full or part time employment. Those disabled people who can work require welfare and work, to help meet disability related costs and to top up low earnings. Disabled people who are born with multiple or severe learning disabilities may never be able to enter the labour market and are likely to depend on earning replacement benefits for the rest for their lives.

In short, the Single Work Focused Gateway should not treat people with disabilities as a homogenous group. The Single Work-focused Gateway will have to be mindful of the wide range, type and degree of disability and uniqueness of each individual—their abilities, aptitudes and preferences. The Gateway must be geared to an individual's needs—planning must define the needs and aspirations of each service user. Personal adviser's should not make assumptions about an individual because of their disability or have low expectations about the ability of a person with learning disabilities who wants to undertake work.

2. Mencap's Employment Service for People with Learning Disabilities

Mencap's Pathway Employment Services are designed to support people with learning disabilities in pursuit of their employment aspirations. First established in 1973, Pathway continues to be a significant and established national contributor, in service delivery. Mencap's Pathway Employment Service has placed over 3,500 adults with learning disabilities in employment over the last fifteen years. These jobs have been predominantly in the service sector. It has had a long history of working closely with employers on a local level. Mencap's Pathway Service has developed good links with a number of companies, such as Marks and Spencer, Tesco, J Sainsbury's, and C&A. We have services throughout the country and many of our services are engaged in contracts with the Employment Service.

3. Scope of the Single Work Focused Gateway

The Government has started a number of pilot schemes which allow disabled people to attend interviews on a voluntary basis. From April 2000, however, it will be compulsory for disabled people to attend an interview as a condition of their benefit entitlement. Mencap has already expressed concern regarding the proposals to force people to attend personal adviser interviews. Many people with severe learning disabilities are unlikely to ever work and their parents will understandably regard an interview to discuss job seeking activities as a waste of time.

Mencap recommends that for severely disabled people and full time carers attending an interview at the Gateway should be optional rather than compulsory. People with profound and multiple disabilities with the greatest support needs, for example, middle rate/higher rate DLA mobility and care components should not be forced to attend a Single Work Focused Gateway. They will have care or supervision needs throughout the day or night. It would be in nobody's interests to insist that even the most severely disabled people can only secure benefits by virtue of an interview about work they have no prospect of getting, with people who have no means of communicating with them.

Mencap feels that compulsory interviews could be inappropriate for severely disabled people and full time carers. First, in principle, it is unfair to force those working full time as carers to take time off to attend an interview to discuss work. Second, it is unfair to jeopardise the sole income of severely disabled people and the sole income of those with potentially vulnerable dependants. Thirdly, such people may experience practical problems associated with attending a work-focused interview especially when reimbursement of their costs of attendance is in doubt. Mencap recommends that the Government should first await the outcome of the pilot studies before reaching a decision on compulsion.

The Government proposes that a claimant's initial contact with the system will be with a person with responsibility for registration and orientation who will then refer a person to a mainstream personal adviser for a discussion about work. Mencap recommends that a claimant should have the option of being referred to either a dedicated specialist personal adviser with experience in employment and knowledge on disability issues for a discussion on work and access to appropriate benefits or a dedicated specialist adviser for a discussion on access to and take up of disability related benefits alone. The specialist adviser should also be responsible for establishing links with disability organisations, such as Mencap.

The person responsible for registration and orientation may consider that it would be inappropriate to refer a person with learning disabilities to a personal adviser given the degree of disability. However, in such circumstances the right kind of support may be specialist advice on relevant benefits rather than a referral out of the Single Work Focused Gateway. This model would ensure that a person with learning disabilities gets the right form of support at the right time.

4. Advice on Benefits

The Government has indicated that the Single Work Focused Gateway will perform a dual role. It will advise people with disabilities on the range of benefits that they are entitled to and will support claimant's efforts to find work. A relationship of trust will need to be developed between the personal adviser and disabled person and this will be crucial. There are inherent difficulties in expecting a personal adviser to monitor a claimant's benefits and provide assistance on possible work opportunities. Claimants will need to be assured that information volunteered in response to questions on employment prospects will not automatically be used to inform a review of benefit entitlements. Often, it will be relevant to future prospects not to current capacity. The flow of information between personal advisers and benefits adjudication officers should be clearly demarcated.

The Government's consultation paper "Support for Disabled People" described the single gateway as a "mechanism for ensuring that people are given a personal adviser who will help them access information on work, benefits and other government sources." However, Government's policy statements on the Gateway to date hove focused on the work-focused aspect, a term which the Government has described as "conducted for such purposes connected with employment and training". Mencap is concerned that in describing interviews as "work focused" the Government may be placing disproportionate priority on getting people into paid employment at the expense of other kinds of support, such as entitlement to disability benefits.

There is good evidence to show that disabled people are not claiming their full entitlement to benefits. People with learning disabilities and their supporters are also not aware of the full range of in-work benefits available to them. This can result in people wrongly believing that they would be financially worse off in work or that is not financially viable to remain in work on a part-time basis. The Single Work Focused Gateway should advise people on all benefits they could claim and be willing and able to discuss different scenarios with people. The onus should not be on people with learning disabilities to ask the right questions.

The Single Work Focused Gateway should also provide for increases in existing awards of benefit where justified and a commitment to pay benefits within a prescribed period of time. There are fears that the new process might delay payments. Personal advisers should encourage people to claim in-work benefits to which they are entitled. Given the low level of take up of disability benefits—the Single Work Focused Gateway has a major role in promoting take up amongst eligible client groups. Such initiatives provide scope for partnership, co-operation and sharing of experience, information and expertise with local authorities and the voluntary sector. Mencap also recommends that Government should initiate a take-up campaign on benefits for disability groups similar to the campaign directed at older people.

5. Registration of People with Learning Disabilities at the Gateway

The initial contact with the system will be with a member of staff responsible for the registration and orientation of new claimants. A claimant will be required to supply basic information, including personal details, reasons for claiming benefit and other details necessary for processing the benefit claim. This person will be responsible at this stage for deciding whether people with learning disabilities should be referred to a personal adviser for a discussion about work opportunities.

This staff member will act as an ambassador for the Single Work Focused Gateway. They are the first point of contact for its customers. There is a need to take account of high profile of the project and recruit staff of a sufficiently high calibre who are able to handle complex situations and understand the needs of a person with a learning disability. The person needs to be non-judgmental and provide unthreatening opportunities for people with learning disabilities to talk about their needs. In some cases, a staff member will be able to identify a person with a learning disability because he/she has been referred by a social worker or specialist college. In other cases a person with learning disabilities may arrive without being referred in such a way or will not be accompanied to the interview by a social worker/parent. Guidelines should be developed which can assist staff members responsible for registration to identify people with a learning disability and their support needs.

A considerable amount of information could be obtained from individuals if the person responsible for registration is given the appropriate guidance on how to broach a sensitive subject and appropriate questions to ask. The Government's emphasis on training has solely focused on the role of personal advisers. The staff member responsible for registration should work towards NVQ level 3.

The role of personal advisers in offering individualised programmes to disabled people will be of crucial importance. Considerable time and resources will need to be deployed to ensure that agencies are fully accessible, that all staff are fully trained even before the pilot schemes begin, and that advisers are aware of the particular needs of people with learning disabilities and allow more time to be spent on each case.

6. Training of Personal Advisers

The DSS and DfEE need to be put in place systems to deliver a comprehensive package of training in learning disability based on explicit standards for all those responsible for the assessment and, subsequent placement into jobs and retention of people with learning disabilities. All participants need to be provided with a minimum level of awareness of learning disability issues, contact points for obtaining specialist information and advice on employment issues. Guidelines should be developed which can help personal advisers to communicate with people with learning disabilities and advise them on employment opportunities accordingly.

There should be opportunities for on-going training and development of personal advisers. Those who interview people with learning disabilities about benefit entitlement and future work possibilities should have appropriate expertise both to conduct the interview and to understand their specific work and benefit requirements.

Personal advisers should be encouraged to develop specialist areas of knowledge. For example, personal advisers could specialise in assisting benefit claimants with disabled children, or claimants with sensory impairments, learning disabilities or mental health problems. Personal advisers should be expected to pool good practice and provide support and advice to each other as well as building links with disability organisations dealing with particular client groups. Personal advisers who successfully engage with people with learning disabilities should be championed.

Although local autonomy will be the strength of the Work Focused Gateway, it is essential that good practice demonstrated in one area is adopted elsewhere and that initiatives identified as essential, particularly with regard to training of personal advisers, are developed in each locality.

7. Advocacy Support

It is important that as far as possible a person with a learning disability understands the role of the Single Work Focused Gateway, understands his/her rights and entitlement to benefits and how to claim them. It is important to recognise that it is unworkable to expect disabled people with intellectual or communication difficulties to attend an interview without support.

To the end, it is important that a person with a learning disability is able to be accompanied by a parent, relative or advocate to a work focused interview where appropriate. The support of another individual can be vital in order to help a claimant to communicate their own view, to boost confidence, provide them with expert advice and help them with communication difficulties.

People with learning disabilities may have difficulty in taking in new information, handling complex material and communicating effectively. They may need support to help think what they want to say and express their views or may need encouragement to answer questions. The aim of advocacy in all its forms is to ensure that people with learning disabilities are not deprived of their rights through lack of information, lack of resources or lack of someone to speak up for them. This will have costs implications for the Benefit Agency in terms of provision of support and because each interview takes longer to complete. It is important that these considerations are built into the budget for the personal adviser scheme.

8. Other Steps to make the Single Work focused Gateway Fully Accessible

For some claimants, an interview at a home at a convenient time will be preferred to attending the Benefits Agency or Employment Office. However, it should not be assumed that just because a person has a particular disability they should be automatically be interviewed at home. The claimant should be consulted in order to have the opportunity to choose between an interview at home or in an alternative location. Above all, the Single Work Focused Gateway should be implemented as a service to individual claimants. Personal advisers must be flexible enough to take account of an individuals' circumstances. The Government will need to clarify how much money has been set aside for home visits, and on what basis they are anticipating demand. Disabled people who have to attend an interview should have reimbursed to them such costs as may be reasonably incurred by them, including the cost of advocate support, where appropriate. So far the only undertaking given relates to "exceptional circumstances".

The Government has given assurances with regard to the accessibility of premises for disabled people in regard to the pilot schemes. Mencap trusts that when the scheme is rolled out to cover the whole country, the standards will not be any lower than those set for the pilots. There is a common misconception that disabled people are physically disabled and that the provision of portable items such as portable ramps, chair or cushions and aids to communication will resolve many of the difficulties or barriers to access facing disabled people. The problem facing people with learning disabilities, however stems not from physical barriers but an unwillingness on behalf of people to provide a service on equal terms. Access for people with learning disabilities depends much more on "people" than on ramps and the barriers are "people" rather than stairs.

The Government has proposed a three day limit for someone to attend an interview following a referral by the staff member responsible for registration. The Government has also put in place a mechanism leading to reduction of benefit for non-attendance. A three day limit is unrealistic for people with learning disabilities who may rely on someone else to read and explain their correspondence to them or who need special transport arrangements.

9. Volunteering

Mencap is concerned by the emphasis the Government has placed on paid, full time employment. It appears to undervalue the contribution to society made by volunteers, parents and carers. People with learning disabilities may need alternatives to full-time paid employment, including unpaid voluntary work, therapeutic work and part-time work. Opportunities to volunteer enable those with learning disabilities to gain self confidence and can help those individuals who want to enter the labour market. Success measures should explicitly recognise the number of disabled people engaged in voluntary or therapeutic work. Mencap believes that volunteering opportunities should be developed for all those with learning disabilities who are about to leave school or college with options developed in conjunction with the Single Work Focused Gateway. Clear guidance should be issued to personal advisers stating that capacity to undertake unpaid work does not equate to capacity to undertake paid employment and should not trigger a reassessment of their capacity to work.

10. Conducting an Interview with a Claimant with a Learning Disability

A personal adviser assessment will be required to discuss with the claimant current skills, qualifications, job competencies and barriers to work. Together the personal adviser and the people with learning disabilities could work out an action plan looking at career development skills gaps, training needs and rehabilitation. A personal adviser should treat the people with learning disabilities with the same respect as their non-disabled counterparts. Mencap recommends that the following approach is taken.

10.1. A meeting should be held to compile a job search profile for the individual. The Government has proposed that a claimant should provide information in areas relevant to the employment prospects, such as educational qualifications, previous work history and vocational training. However, an interview with a person with learning disabilities will need to be more tailored to their needs. This will involve putting together a plan of a person's current daily activities, at home and out of home, the type of support that person currently receives and what kind of support works well when teaching a person a new skill. A personal adviser should consider the interests that the person has in activities in an out of the home.

10.2. A personal advisor should consider whether a person currently works and examine all work opportunities including household tasks, work tasters, skilled work and paid work. The candidate's ability, willingness and motivation to work towards entering the labour market should be discussed and assessed. The personal adviser will need to have knowledge of the local area, including specialist colleges and the type of open and supported job opportunities that exist. What type of support does the person need when using public transport? What local resources are there? Is there a specialist employment service, job clubs or training schemes. Building links with employers is essential. Employers with a record of having people with learning disabilities on their work force are much more likely to employ a person with a learning disability rather than those with no experience.

10.3. The concept of employability rather than full time, paid employment is a more useful starting point for personal advisers working with people with learning disabilities who are keen to enter the labour market or in danger of losing their current employment. The information element of a personal adviser should straddle all the work opportunities available to people with learning disabilities, such as improved access to education, training and employment support services.

There are a number of training models in services that can place people with learning disabilities in employment. There are time limited courses usually undertaken in Further Education Colleges or training centres. Sheltered employment has provided work for people who would otherwise remain unemployed. For some people with learning disabilities work in a day centre should be viewed as a stepping stone to open employment. Supported employment allows a person to be placed in a suitable job and providing them with training and other support. It may provide people with learning disabilities with a real job in a real work place. At this stage, it may be appropriate to seeks the advice of a specialist disability organisation, such as Mencap's Pathway service, where available locally, on what option would best suit an individual.

10.4. Once a claimant has been assessed along the lines outlined above consideration should be given to offering the claimant and employer a range of support when they take a person with learning disabilities onto their work force. Types of assistance include information packages about financial incentives; regular visits; a job coach; and feedback about the impact the job has in the individual's life. Details of Pathway's services and its approach to interviewing people with learning disabilities are set out in Annex One.

10.5. The form of support offered must be meaningful and offer progression to a person with learning disabilities. Interviews should not simply tick people off; they should be subject to quality control to ensure that individual get a individual service. For instance, it should be recognised that referral to a training course may not always be satisfactory outcome for a person with a learning disability, particularly if that person has already been on a similar course in the past. We are aware of people who have had several rounds of "work experience" but no sign of an actual job. That individual may be looking for support in order to access supported or open employment. There is also anecdotal evidence at colleges of Further Education across the country, of the "revolving door" syndrome, where students with learning disabilities are repeatedly enrolling for education provision because there are no vocational support services available to enable them to effectively make the progression into work.

11. Involvement of Disability Organisations in the Delivery of the Gateway

Disability organisations, such as Mencap's Pathway service, can play a key role in the delivery of the gateway. A personal adviser will provide a balanced package of work focused help. In many cases, a personal adviser, if not a specialist, will feel it is appropriate to seek the advice and support of a disability employment specialist, such as Mencap's Pathway, which can provide guidance on the employment of people with learning disabilities.

Single Work Focused Gateway staff should be encouraged to develop links with other service providers in order to build up their knowledge and expertise of people with learning disabilities living in their local community. Mencap's Pathway will also have developed good links with the local business community and specialist colleges. Mencap recommends that personal advisers develop links with specialist employment organisations in their locality and that the extent to which such links are developed are monitored and published. Regional directors should come together to evaluate good practice in their area.

From November 1999, the Government plans to invite external providers to be involved with the management of the operation of the Gateway. There will be scope for the voluntary sector to provide or train personal advisers or manage part of the caseload based on agreed outputs. The Government needs to clarify details of the contractual arrangements and methods of working between the Employment Service, the Benefits Agency, local authorities and the voluntary sector.

The most pressing concern is whether disability organisations will have the capacity to delivery elements of the Gateway. There is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that local authorities have cut their funding to local employment projects, such as those provided by Mencap's Pathway Service. Recent research by Mencap has demonstrated that funding to Pathway services from local authorities has fallen and at least ten Pathway services have folded in the last five years. organisations supporting people with learning disabilities will not be able to develop an active role in advising personal advisers or delivering aspects of the Single Work Focused Gateway unless funding to support them is increased. Mencap recommends that regional and local capacity should be built to enable disability organisations, such as Mencap's Pathway service, to maximise their contribution to the Single Work Focused Gateway.

There are also a number of lessons to be drawn from the delivery of the New Deal programme. First, there should not be any financial risk associated with taking on a contract to deliver management of the Single Work Focused Gateway, particularly if payment is largely in arrears and is tied to the individual. If numbers passing through a programme are not as high as predicted then the contract income will be lower than expected. Mencap recommends that disability organisations are guaranteed a proportion of their contract income in order to lessen the risk and encourage involvement. Funds should be not follow the client or be based on outputs.

Mencap is aware that there has been considerable concern expressed over the private sector's involvement in the New Deal. Private sector lead areas have been described as the "privatisation" of New Deal. As a result, there is concern that private organisations with no community links, may manage a significant proportion of the delivery of the Single Work Focused Gateway. Mencap recommends that lead organisations must consult with all disability groups on the front line, including those representing people with learning disabilities, if they are to gain an understanding of local circumstances. It is also especially important that tendering documents make certain requirements on accessibility, training and the option of home visits. Mencap fears that the lack of capacity in the voluntary sector, including disability organisations may lead to contracts being awarded to big training providers who are geared up to bidding but not to delivering a specialist service.

12. Relationship between the Single Work Focused Gateway and New Deal

It is unclear, at this stage, how the single gateway for benefit claimants will relate to the gateway for the New Deal programme or whether it is the intention to merge the two gateways. First, there is a risk that the proliferation of New Deal programmes, pilot programmes and personal advisers will become a source of confusion for employers and potential employees alike. Second, there is concern that an increased emphasis on job opportunities by the Single Gateway will put increased pressure on disabled people to take part in the New Deal for Disabled People.

We are pleased that there is no element of compulsion in the New Deal for disabled people and very much hopes this principle is maintained once the single Gateway is rolled out. Mencap calls on the Government to clarify the relationship between New Deal and the Single Work Focused Gateway, particularly when both are in operation in the same area. In particular we are concerned that the New Deal at present especially for those anxious to work as time limited funding, whereas Gateway funding is a core programme and may be seen more as "benefit control".

13. Ongoing Support

Barriers to employment, including benefits traps facing disabled people, are problems which need to be addressed. The structure of the social security system particularly the excessive use of means tested benefits has contributed to this problem. This is likely to be exacerbated following the passage of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill. However, there appears to be a tendency to focus heavily on the issue of benefit traps—it will be necessary to address other barriers such as the means of getting to work and the retention of those disabled people in the workplace who are able to work.

Mencap recommends that prior to the introduction of the Single Work-Focused Gateway, the Government, in consultation with disability groups, produces a booklet setting out a number of quality standards relating to support and advice extended to people with disabilities, including learning disabilities. This would include commitments on accessibility by people with learning disabilities to the recruitment, retention, training and promotion processes and the need to ensure that disability awareness training is made available to all staff.

Mencap believes that the Government, in conjunction with disability groups, should raise awareness of the positive business reasons for employing people with learning disabilities. An employer faced with an option of taking on an unemployed person or a disabled person, with learning disabilities, requiring additional support and training, will need further incentives before taking on that disabled person. It would not be acceptable for a personal adviser to refer a person to a job if the support mechanisms are not on place to support the person in the workplace.

14. Job Retention

The Government will also need to address job retention issues as part of its drive to increase the number of disabled people in work. A personal adviser will need to ensure that a person with learning disabilities is provided with ongoing and appropriate support in the workplace. Support should be extended to employers and employees in relation to matters of retention and adaptation to changing conditions and work practices.

The tax and benefit system should also be further examined with a view to offering further tax or other advantages to employers who employ people with learning disabilities. One option would be to remove the employers' contribution to Access to Work, a scheme which has played such an important role in providing meaningful employment opportunities for disabled people.

Access to Work helps to meet the costs of special equipment and alterations, the cost of getting to work and the cost of a Support Worker in the workplace. However a report by the Disablement Income Group suggests that only 6 per cent of Access to Work recipients are funded for support workers. Mencap is concerned that whilst there is evidence to suggest that Access to Work offers valuable support in the workplace, it needs to be better published and the range of assistance that is available under the scheme should be made clear to employers and employees. The Government will need to measure the numbers of people claiming help to the Access to Work scheme. In addition, Mencap believes that the employers' contribution to Access to Work should be removed with further publicity given to the benefits of that scheme.

15. Outcomes for the Gateway

Mencap urges the Government to evaluate the personal adviser pilot schemes comprehensively by making explicit the outcomes on which they will judge the schemes success. Successful outcomes will differ tremendously from claimant to claimant, and it is not appropriate to have a reduction of claimants on a particular benefit as a target. Mencap would also caution against other output-related targets such as the number of interviews conducted in a week by a personal adviser or a target of a specified number of people entering work. One of the difficulties with the Benefits Integrity Project was that officers had target completion rates of 15 cases per day. This did not give staff enough time to make thorough assessments of the information available to them, with disastrous, consequences for disabled people. It is essential that personal advisers are able to devote as much or as little time as is needed for interviews. For example, a personal adviser will need more time to complete an interview with a claimant with a learning disability because it may take longer to explain the information and take longer for the claimant to understand complex benefit issues. However, a claimant's concentration may be poor over long periods of time and it may be necessary to conduct two short interviews rather than one lengthy one.

Targets should be a positive one of setting more people in contact with the labour market, the consequence of which may be a reduction in expenditure, or ensuring that people with learning disabilities are claiming all their benefits. For example, in the case of a Severe Disablement Allowance claimant, a personal adviser interview may be judged as a success if the claimant goes on to take up other benefits to which they are entitled. One option would be for Government to develop performance indicators that would measure the number of people in receipt of Disability Living Allowance who are in work or in receipt of therapeutic earnings, as well as disabled people remaining in work.

Information on the evaluation of the pilots schemes should be made public and a report submitted to Parliament. The views of people with learning disabilities on the running of the Gateway should be sought.

Richard Kramer

Head of Campaigns

29 April 1999


 
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