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Select Committee on Work and Pensions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 26

Memorandum submitted by the New Beginnings Advisory Group (EDP 35)

THE NEW BEGINNINGS PROGRAMME

  1.  The New Beginnings initiative comprises a pan-organisational and pan-disability coalition liaising with Government including leading employers and organisations of and for disabled people (eg Disability Alliance, Scottish Power, HSBC and the Shaw Trust, UnumProvident) to remove the barriers that prevent disabled people finding and keeping work. This coalition is closely and actively involved with a number of groups to promote disabled people to employers and to help employers recruit and retain disabled people in the workplace.

WELFARE REFORM

  2.  The Group's experience leads it to believe that there are two key developments needed to achieve successful return to work for people who become disabled. The first is to set the expectation of a return to work (and in this respect, the language around incapacity benefit and inactivity is particularly important, and currently, unhelpful). The second is a requirement for a flexible welfare system that supports the disabled person in work, both financially, and through access to training and support and that continues to provide such support for periods in and out of work.

  3.  The current welfare, tax and benefits systems can make it difficult for disabled people to return to work. They can act as a disincentive to encourage disabled people to look for work or to find work if they want it and are overly complex.

  4.  The current plethora of benefits for people with disabilities is confusing and piecemeal and can often leave disabled people with the belief that they are better off in receiving benefits than being in work.

  5.  Tax credits have been a step in the right direction in terms of creating financial return to work incentives but they remain an overly-complex mechanism to encourage disabled people to go back into the workplace as can be witnessed by the paucity of take-up so far.

  6.  The New Deal for Disabled People has made a positive start towards return to work and job retention but the national effect appears to be patchy.

  7.  Most disabled people would like work in some capacity. This is the case even where those people are already in receipt of incapacity benefit. What is key is that the individual has an expectation of a return to work. In this respect, the terminology around incapacity benefit might be unhelpful as part of the overall desire to achieve return to work and job retention. The New Beginnings Group is wary of proposing fundamental changes to Incapacity Benefit per se which might affect genuine entitlement; however, a key recommendation is that the terminology is worthy of re-examination.

  8.  The concept of return to work as a continuum is an important one, as it makes it clear that some individuals may not ever be able to work sufficient hours to financially support themselves fully. The benefits system needs to be flexible enough to cope with people moving in and out of work, and be able to adjust the benefit level according to the amount of work they do. At present, it does not do so, and some disabled people can be worse off in work than out of it.

  9.  In its recent Green Paper on Pensions: Simplicity, Security and Choice; Working and Savings for Retirement, the Department for Work and Pensions has demonstrated it is looking to develop the principle of flexible working and is looking at ways to extend working lives. The Green Paper talked about "introducing measures to extend working lives". As part of this approach, the New Beginnings Group believes this approach can also be adopted more widely. If policy is developing to allow for flexible work patterns this Inquiry might wish to explore just how a more flexible approach towards returning to work for disabled people might fit well into such overall policy guidelines.

THE ROLE OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR AND EMPLOYERS

  10.  The private sector has a significant role to play in helping to return disabled people to work but we need to look at welfare incentives and, perhaps more importantly the disincentives, around this. The Advisory Group members are committed to diversity and believe firmly in the business case for including disabled people amongst your workforce.

  11.  New Beginnings group member B&Q believes that there are significant benefits to be gained from aiming more targeted help at the individual enabling state benefits, health and return to work solutions to be more effectively tailored.

  12.  Most members of the Group believe greater communication of best practice will create a wider trickle down effect across the country. Job Centre Plus might be the best mechanism to co-ordinate such activity. UnumProvident has worked together with the Department for Work and Pensions and Job Centre Plus to create "The Knowledge" a best practice guide for employers. New Beginnings would like to see more of this kind of activity.

  13.  Group members led by the Disability Alliance believe more significant help needs to be given to Small and Medium Sized Enterprise (SME) business which do not have large-scale human resources departments in order to help them achieve more successful job retention outcomes.

  14.  In the experience of HSBC, full consultation with the disabled employee is undertaken in order to take into account their views and preferences on rehabilitation. This also gives the opportunity to discuss possible options and the method or methods to be adopted. This consultation process involves both line managers and the Occupational Health team. The intention is to offer important practical and psychological support to all employees through consultation and the provision of employment assessment, which will identify any reasonable adjustments possible.

  15.  Finally, New Beginnings believes the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is starting to have a positive effect with larger organisations and there is significantly more case precedent to adhere to. However, positive case studies still emanate from a small number of employers and, usually, the same businesses. More needs to be done to widen the impact of the Act.

MEMBERS OF THE NEW BEGINNINGS ADVISORY GROUP INCLUDE:—


B & Q
Business in the Community
CBIThe Cooperative Bank
Disability AllianceDisability Rights Commission
Employers Forum on DisabilityHSBC
The Institute of DirectorsScottish Power
The Shaw TrustSwiss Re
UnumProvidentBarclays Bank





 
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