Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by RNIB

1. Introduction

1.2 RNIB is the largest organisation representing the interests of visually impaired people in the UK, offering a range of some 60 services, a number of which focus on employment issues. The views expressed below are based on consultations with clients and colleagues including Committee members who include representatives of major national organisations of visually impaired people. These views may reasonably be taken, therefore, to accurately reflect the opinion of the majority of visually impaired people of working age.

1.3 The Single Work-Focused Gateway initiative is generally welcomed by RNIB, a number of the underlying principles being consistent with RNIB policy.

  • Our long-term concern has been about persistent high unemployment and economic inactivity among visually impaired people and there is widespread support among our clients for an initiative which seeks to enable them to obtain employment.
  • Pursuing this aim on the basis of a coherent service handling both employment and benefits issues is also a principle that RNIB has supported for a number of years.
  • RNIB is also committed to the principle of working in partnerships that draw upon a breadth of expertise that no one sector can deliver alone.

2. Objectives

2.1 RNIB supports the intention of achieving a higher level of economic activity for benefit recipients by achieving a sustainable level of employment. Sustainable employment for a disabled person requires a recognition that an optimum level of engagement in the labour market by disabled people may fall short of full-time mainstream employment but will, nevertheless, reduce significantly the dependence of individuals on benefits.

2.2 The emphasis on the provision of a support service that is tailored to individual need is particularly important in helping individuals to find that optimum level of activity. The three elements that we feel would be most effective are:

  • Providing employment action planning on an individual basis.
  • Offering benefits advice as part of a one-stop service.
  • Providing a caseworker to broker across the complex network of agencies that disabled people have to deal with.

2.3 RNIB realises that some anxieties have been expressed about the requirement that disabled people should attend compulsory interviews. From consulting with our client group, we are aware that a substantial majority of people are not opposed in principle to the requirement that they should attend for interview. This is in part because of the Government's reassurance that particular circumstances may make an interview inappropriate at a given time.

2.4 There does remain, however, some concern over the quality of interviews and RNIB's clients would be unhappy if insensitive interviewing were to undermine a potentially positive process.

3. Coverage

3.1 It is inevitable that pilot schemes cannot cover the full range of circumstances that will be met in a nationally applied scheme. RNIB is content with the coverage proposed in the pilots, provided that the Government recognises that even the diversity represented by those pilot schemes will not represent the full diversity if and when the Single Gateway is rolled out on a national basis.

3.2 The pilot schemes need to recognise the diversity of the population. Within the population of people with disabilities there is a range of different disabilities, levels of severity and time of onset. All of these factors create different requirements for those individuals.

3.3 The labour market varies from one region to another, and even from one area to another within regions. This variation also applies to the intermediate labour market opportunities which are available. The distribution of organisations offering sheltered and supported employment opportunities is not uniform across the country and the absence of this option restricts the flexibility of the labour market in some regions. This needs to be taken into account, when evaluating the effectiveness of the pilot schemes.

4. Quality

4.1 The main issues of quality are likely to revolve around 4 main elements of the process.

4.2 The interview

Assuming that the focus of the interview is about employment planning, it needs to be sensitive and requires an interviewer who is knowledgeable about disability issues and about the implications of disability on employment. To make appropriate decisions in relation to employment may entail discussion of related matters such as impact on benefits and need for further training. The principle of partnership becomes central in this situation to ensure that the Gateway is able to draw on appropriate expertise.

4.3 Benefits Advice

The linkage with benefits advice has to be based on a determination to secure those benefits to which the individual is entitled. It is important that the relationship between benefits entitlement and subsequent outcomes is monitored carefully. This will enable the identification of the kind of benefits regime which is likely to meet the dual aims of securing a reasonable standard of living for the individual whilst encouraging individuals to engage in the labour market.

4.4 Case Working

It is important that the case worker has a professional relationship with his or her client in the sense that they should be prepared to act as advocate on the clients behalf when necessary, putting the clients interests first rather than administrative priorities of the service. This is no more than a patient would expect of a doctor or parents and children would expect of teachers.

4.5 Labour Market Flexibility

From the point of view of a disabled person seeking employment, an important aspect of quality will be the flexibility with which the case worker is able to deal with the local labour market conditions to find those opportunities which most accurately meet the needs and aspirations of the client. It is important that simply acquiring employment or securing some form of progression is not seen in itself as a sufficient outcome.

5. Evaluation

5.1 Given variations within the population and within the labour market opportunities from one region to another it is important that the underlying principle of evaluation should be to identify what elements of intervention are successful for which clients and in what way.

5.2 Clearly there will be some overall statistical evaluation which will look at numbers moving out of benefit, into employment and into training. It is perfectly reasonable to look for overall measures but it is important to recognise that such measures are crude and in themselves give no clue as to what are the best options for future development.

5.3 Evaluation has to be at the level of each pilot area where the progress of cohorts going through the system can be monitored in detail. There needs to be qualitative feedback to find out which elements of the process are perceived as successful by clients.

5.4 There needs to be a value added element where recognition is given that it is equally significant for a severely disabled person to secure a place in supported employment less severely disabled person to obtain employment in the open labour market.

6. Timescales

6.1 RNIB is supportive of tight timescales in principle. Evidence consistently indicates that a failure to intervene quickly with unemployed visually impaired people leads to dissociation from the labour market. Early intervention appears to lead to improved success rates in obtaining employment.

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Prepared 27 July 1999