Memorandum submitted by the Disability
Benefits Consortium (OP 04)
The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) is
a coalition of some 500 disability organisations of and for disabled
people, including the British Council of Disabled People (BCODP),
Disability Alliance, Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation
(RADAR). Action for Blind People, Age Concern, Royal Society for
Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults (MENCAP), Mind, Royal
National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), Royal National Institute
for Deaf People (RNID), Scope and Sense. The DBC had drawn on
the experience of its member organisations to inform this response.
1. There has been substantial research analysis
of the first steps towards an integrated approach to work and
benefits, and we shall therefore keep our response brief, and
focus on a limited range of key points. These points are drawn
from the published research and from our own experience as organisations
providing both work-related programmes and welfare benefits advice.
The lessons from ONE for Jobcentre Plus are important in terms
of seeking to establish for the latter trust based on the competence
of staff in advising on benefit rights and benefit implications
2. The initial Government expectation was
that the same staff would be experts in employment and training
and welfare rights, and it is already clear that this may be an
unrealistic expectation. It may also be unrealistic to expect
the same staff to give equal weight to maximising job preparation
and job search and maximising benefit entitlement. The system
seems to work where people with different expertise are working
3. It was the experience 30 years ago with
apparently integrated systems such as those in the USA and Denmark
that in practice there was early streaming into those with work
potential and those without work potential. If, as is likely,
the same thing happens here, it is important that the streaming
should be done on a rational and consistent basis; and that people
should not suffer unnecessary delay in either getting benefits
or getting work-related help while the sorting out is taking place.
The more that goals on the work front are diversified away from
full-time paid employment towards a variety of occupations including
voluntary and therapeutic work, the less the need for a black
and white work and not work streaming.
4. Staff must be set goals which support
rather than undermine the balance of effort between securing employment
and securing benefit entitlement. The two things are not inconsistent,
in as much as willingness to make the effort and take the risks
to work is influenced by entitlement to in-work benefits. It would
be easy to set goals relating exclusively to work placements.
We want to see in addition goals relating to speedy and accurate
determination of benefit entitlement, and implementation of awards.
People getting their full benefit rights is more immediately important
than people beginning the journey [back] to work.
5. Special arrangements on the part of employers
and special expertise on the part of disabled people mean that
it is in theory possible for almost everybody to "work",
irrespective of the nature and degree of their disability. There
are people in paid employment who, if they presented themselves
as candidates for a job, would be turned down out of hand as unemployable.
There are people who have fallen foul of tighter conditions for
access to incapacity benefit, but who are regarded as unemployable
by the employment services at the same time as they are regarded
as capable of work by the benefits services. There has to be an
approach within any integrated system based on the two questions:
(a) is it realistic to expect this person to work?; (b) if it
is unrealistic, does this person nevertheless want to work, and
can we help them fulfil their dream?
6. Despite the well established evidence
of lack of fraud among Incapacity Benefit claimants, the not very
well founded belief that 1 million disabled people want to work
and could work has encouraged the expectation of quick hits in
terms of switching from welfare to work. All our experience suggests
that substantial numbers of people who become disabled while working
could be helped to stay in employment, without disproportionate
cost, but that supporting into employment disabled people who
have never worked is likely to be relatively slow and relatively
expensive. For some people with severe learning disability, the
transition period may last for years, and then result in the conclusion
that the right long-term answer for that person is actually therapeutic
work while on benefitand not making the change to earnings
with tax credits. Outcome targets which include voluntary work,
training, work experience, therapeutic and part-time work, are
all wholly valid for particular people at particular times, and
for some people indefinitely. It would be unfair on claimants
and on staff to make full-time paid employment the only goal.
7. It is not enough to be aware of disability.
It is necessary to be aware of the implications of the particular
disability. Commonly misunderstood disability issues include:
The fluctuations with circumstances
or medication of someone with a history of mental illness.
The difficulty some people with learning
disabilities experience in pacing themselves or in adjusting to
new situations or new relationships.
The distinction between someone who
is well-adjusted to visual impairment and someone who is still
coming to terms with loss of sight.
The inability of someone with advancing
neurological impairment to take on extra work when just maintaining
stability with an existing job.
The social impact of hearing impairment,
and the employment implications of increasing social isolation.
8. Alan is a young man with learning disabilities
who at present works one day a week. He has good social skills.
His speech is quite fluent though not easy to understand. He is
physically fit. It would be easy to assess him as capable of full-time
work. His "hidden" disability is that he cannot pace
himself. When working, gardening, or running, he will keep going
until he drops. An employer would have to cope with an employee
who works flat out and then collapses. Most employers will not
be able to do that, and Alan's realistic prospects of more than
a minimal amount of paid employment are poor.
9. We would advocate:
(i) Ready access to expertise in particular
disabilities and combinations of disabilities;
(ii) Ready access to disability benefits
(iii) Outcome targets which include prompt
access to the right rates of relevant benefits;
(iv) Continued exploration of the most flexible
use of combinations of benefits, tax credits and earnings, and
in particular maintenance of the therapeutic earnings limit and
restoration of the real value of the Income Support earnings disregard
(at least £30 a week);
(v) A long-term approach to supporting the
employment goals of severely disabled people who want to workincluding
continuing support where this is needed.