Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR) (SG27)


  This paper responds to the Social Security Select Committee and the Employment Sub Committee's inquiry into the Single Work-focused Gateway.

  RADAR is a national disability organisation working on behalf of disabled people, irrespective of their type of impairment.

  The organisation has three main functions:

    —  The first is to provide information on all aspects of disability except medical, dealing with around 23,000 enquiries per annum and other staff dissimulate information as part of their work.

    —  RADAR has around 500 self-governing organisations in membership whose interests we seek to represent in all aspects of our work.

    —  RADAR carries out work on all of the major social policy areas affecting disabled people: anti-discrimination legislation, health, education, employment, social security, community care, independent living and transport.

  RADAR has a well established Education, Training and Employment Committee. The Committee consists of people with expertise from a wide range of organisations and examines issues concerned with the educational and employment opportunities available to disabled people. RADAR has also carried out extensive research into existing employment support initiatives, such as the Employment Service's "Access to Work" scheme. RADAR has therefore been able to draw upon its own expertise, from staff and members, and the experience of other organisations.

  RADAR welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the work of the Committee.


  1.1  There are approximately 8.6 million sick and disabled people in the UK. This represents 17 per cent of the working population. In the winter of 1997-98 2.5 million disabled people were in employment. This constitutes an employment rate of 42 per cent, compared with 80 per cent of non-disabled people. (Source: Labour Force Survey, Winter 1997-98).

  1.2  RADAR believes that disabled people have a right to the same range of opportunities as non-disabled people and this includes employment. Disabled people have an enormous wealth of skills and expertise to bring to the workforce and, for many disabled people, employment aids social integration, raises self-confidence and heightens aspirations.


  2.1  RADAR advocates that a major obstacle to disabled people fulfilling potential is the provision of coherent, unambiguous and accessible information. Information for disabled people concerning opportunities, including employment, needs to be provided in a way that meets the individual disabled person's requirements. Not only does the information need to incorporate the requirements and concerns of a wide range of disabled people but also be perceived as relevant to the circumstances of the individual. To achieve this the information must be delivered in a clearly structured framework with disabled people understanding the divisions of responsibility of the different information providers. This enables a disabled person to identify sources of information and advice and utilise services.


  3.1  RADAR believes that a modern, flexible and integrated approach needs to be adopted in aiding disabled people to gain a greater degree of independence and that employment is a realistic goal for many disabled people. However, it must be recognised that, for a significant number of disabled people, employment is neither an appropriate nor realistic option. A recent review of disability benefits by Richard Berthoud (see: "Disablity benefits, a review of the issues and option for reform", Richard Berthoud, Joseph Roundtree Foundation, 1998) cast considerable doubt on the Government's assertion that over one million disabled people wanted to work. His analysis of the number of disabled people affected by the reforms made to Incapacity Benefit revealed that instead of the expected 240,000 existing claimants losing their benefits, as a result of the stricter test, only about 160,000 ex-Invalidity Benefit claimants left the register over the next two years. This was partly because of slow administration but moreover because more candidates than expected "passed" the new test. This would cast doubt on the view that a large proportion of claimants are capable of work. RADAR is concerned that an over-emphasis on the "work first" model, within Single Work-focused Gateway, could further disengage disabled people who are unable to work from pursuing alternative activities.

  3.2  RADAR is concerned about the introduction of compulsory interviews for disabled people entering the Single Work-focused Gateway. Whilst the early provision of help and support is to the advantage of the disabled person, there is a danger that the concept of compulsion may lead to a misconception by a participant about the purpose of the interview. Some disabled people who claim benefit may perceive a compulsory interview as a sanction for a failure to find an alternative. This could lead to mistrust by the disabled people, resulting in the initiative being less effective as a positive tool towards employment.

  3.3  RADAR welcomes the proposals to streamline the institutions and agencies that come into contact with disabled people seeking employment. Many disabled people are in contact with a large number of agencies, bodies and organisations. A single point of contact is not only likely to result in improved sign posting and information provision but also add enthusiasm, by the client group, for the initiative. However, it is important that disabled people are aware and can clearly identify distinct divisions of responsibility of the departments involved. This needs to include how different departments such as the Benefits Agency and Employment Service collaborate and the level and type of support that can be provided by each. Evidence in the past has suggested that disabled people have not been adequately informed of the role of agencies. An example is the Employment Service's Access to Work scheme. Research by RADAR and the RNIB identified that lack of awareness of the scheme and information on the type of support it can provide, together with the way the Employment Service operates, constituted the principal reasons for its low take-up (See "Access to Equality", an analysis of the effectiveness of the Access to Work scheme" RADAR and RNIB, 1995).

  3.4  RADAR acknowledges that technology has a role to play in providing information and support. Indeed for some disabled people the use of telephone help-lines and the Internet can greatly ease information gathering. However, mass information provision through central points like call-centres will not always meet the needs of all participants and may cause disproportionate difficulties for disabled people. Some disabled people have conditions, such as poor dexterity and/or speech impairments, that hinder the ability to use mass information-providing tools. This has become evident during the growth of other technology-based services such as telephone banking. RADAR is aware, through calls to its Information Department and direct contact with its members, of a number of difficulties that disabled people have encountered using these services. These have included automatic referral systems not being able to recognise speech or actions needed to obtain services. This has, on occasions, resulted in the disabled person receiving a lesser service or being denied access altogether. RADAR would want to ensure that where technology is used to provide information it remained one of a number of options with disabled people having continued access to one-to-one support from an appropriate source.

  3.5  RADAR welcomes the proposal that private and voluntary organisations could become an integral part of the Single Work Focused Gateway. Many disability organisations and private bodies are able to bring expertise that can assist disabled people to progress. However, this will need careful management within a clearly defined framework to ensure consistency and quality of service. All parties need to be aware of their responsibilities and these need to be communicated effectively to the client.


  4.1  The development of the mainstream New Deal and New Deal for Disabled People has already prompted discussions by disability organisations and officials on how to evaluate services effectively where consortia are involved. A two-strand approach consisting of how the service providers perceive themselves and how clients perceive them is evolving as a best practice approach. RADAR would endorse this approach and stress the importance of the "partnership model" ensuring that the client remains central to the monitoring and evaluation process and that modifications are made to the service level agreement when necessary.

  4.2  RADAR understands and agrees with the need for piloting the Single Work-focused Gateway. Whilst RADAR agrees that the development of the initiative requires a comprehensive evaluation within a practical time scale, it is clear that a longitudinal study will be required to evaluate the ability of the Single Work-focused Gateway to provide sustainable opportunities to disabled people. This initiative will ultimately be measured by its ability to reduce the number of disabled people who are long-term unemployed.


  5.1  RADAR accepts that the current benefit system is in need of reform and that some factors within the benefit system can prevent many disabled people having the opportunity to reach their full potential in a range of areas including employment. An impairment often results in a loss of earning capacity and disabled people are recognised as a low-income group. This, coupled with the well-documented disability-related expenditure which is often under estimated (see Kestenbaum, A. 1997 "Disability Related Costs and Charges for Community Care. London DIG"), makes it imperative that the benefit system provides an adequate level of income.

  5.2  RADAR welcomes the Government recognition of the need to reform the benefit system to remove financial disincentives to employment. A range of factors exists which encourage a disabled person not to pursue opportunities, including employment. This can result in the disabled person becoming inactive, disengaged and losing confidence. In the past many of these areas have been seen as peripheral to employment or attaining a "work-ready" status. These areas include housing, transport and independent living. RADAR believes that providing help and assistance to overcome these barriers is vital in increasing a disabled person's confidence and aspirations.


  6.1  RADAR believes that personal advisors have an important role to play in providing assistance and support to disabled people. However personal advisors will have a great deal of responsibility and will require an extensive body of knowledge. The introduction of the Benefit Integrity Project saw many disabled people being interviewed by people who have little to no knowledge of disability. RADAR, through its information service and member network, was contacted by a large number of disabled people who felt they had been unfairly assessed by people who did not understand the full implications of their disabilities. This caused a great deal of distress and mistrust among disabled people and their organisations. RADAR is concerned by the lack of knowledge on disability issues specifically: disability awareness and disability benefits demonstrated by some Disability Employment Advisors (DEAs). However, we do acknowledge the Employment Service's efforts to improve this position. For the above reasons RADAR would want to see personal advisors being given relevant and appropriate disability awareness training and easy access to a wide range of specialist organisations and skilled Benefit Agency staff.

  6.2  The personal advisor's relationship with the client can only be effective if it is within an environment of trust and commitment on the side of the disabled person. There is also a danger of confusion over the role of the personal advisor. In particular, there needs to be clear distinction made between the role of an advisor and a counsellor. Many disabled people have difficulties that will be beyond the knowledge of a personal advisor. Although the personal advisor will have the ability to refer a disabled person to a more appropriate source of advice like a DEA or rehabilitation specialist, the ambiguity of roles is likely to increase confusion and mistrust on the side of the disabled person.

  6.3  The disabled person needs to believe that the personal advisor and the Single Work-focused Gateway can deliver a worthwhile and appropriate service. RADAR is concerned that the interview with personal advisors needs to be carried out within an appropriate and realistic time scale. Although a degree of flexibility is allowed for in the time scale and location of the initial interview, the document suggests that the interview should usually take place within three days of the initial contact being made. RADAR agrees that an interview needs to take place at the earliest opportunity. However, an explicit target time scale of three days may be unrealistic and could lead to personal advisors feeling pressurised to meet specific targets that are designed to meet the needs of the system, rather than the individual. This could lead to personal advisors making disabled people, particularly those with complex disabilities, a low priority. In addition, for many disabled people three days is not a practical time scale to make the arrangements that may be needed to have a constructive interview either in the office or at home. Some disabled people will have to arrange transport or organise facilitation such as a personal assistant.

  6.4  RADAR welcomes the Government's acknowledgement that for some disabled people an immediate interview will be inappropriate and insensitive. RADAR believes there should be clear and proper guidance available to identify these instances and avoid unnecessary and distressing interviews. Disabled clients also need to be aware that they can, if they wish, decline an offer of a discussion on employment without being penalised. Decisions to defer an interview should be followed by an amount of time appropriate to the individuals circumstances before an interview is rescheduled.

  6.5  RADAR considers the appropriate referral by a personal advisor to a specialist service as of paramount importance. Personal advisors must direct the disabled person to a specialist, like a DEA, if there is any doubt about the the ability of the personal advisor to assist. RADAR is aware through calls to its information department and direct contact with members that some disabled people entering the New Deal have not always been referred to a more appropriate source of help.

  6.6  RADAR welcomes the proposal that personal advisors could continue to provide help and support to participants of the Single Work-focused Gateway once in work. RADAR believes that the retention of disabled people in employment is a key to reducing long-term unemployment amongst disabled people. This often requires additional in-work support and advice. Whilst this support is often provided by Disability Employment Advisors an additional tier of support, offered by personal advisors, is likely to be an added benefit to disabled people.


  RADAR welcomes the concept of a Single Work-focused Gateway as a tool to enable disabled people to explore employment opportunities. The role of the personal advisor and their relationship with the disabled client is likely to be the key to the success of the initiative. For this to be effective the personal advisor needs to have an extensive knowledge of disability issues and create an atmosphere of trust with the disabled client. The disabled person must have a clear understanding of the purpose for the Single Work-focused Gateway and have advice and support that meets their individual needs.

  RADAR would welcome the opportunity to provide oral evidence to the Committee.


  RADAR welcomes the proposal of a Single Work-focused Gateway. Many of the proposals outlined in the recent consultation could assist some disabled people to obtain the information and services needed to access a wider range of opportunities.

  Disabled people must be made explicitly aware of what the Single Work-focused Gateway is, its purpose and how it relates to other initiatives.

  For a significant number of disabled people employment is not a realistic or appropriate option. RADAR would want to ensure that this group of disabled people is efficiently and appropriately processed by the Single Work-focused Gateway and guided towards further advice.

  Personal advisors will require a large body of disability—related knowledge. RADAR advocates that all personal advisors receive comprehensive training in disability awareness and other relevant areas, such as housing, independent living and mobility training.

  Any disabled person entering the Single Work-focused Gateway and requiring assistance beyond the abilities of the personal advisor must be referred to an appropriate specialist at the earliest opportunity.

  The Single Work-focused Gateway will need to be evaluated over a substantial period of time to assess its ability to secure sustainable opportunities for disabled people.

April 1999

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 8 July 1999