Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the London Borough of Newham

LONDON BOROUGH OF NEWHAM SOCIAL REGENERATION UNIT (SRU)

  The Social Regeneration Unit is part of Newham Council. The Unit works to reduce social and financial exclusion, and maximise the incomes of people in Newham by:

    —  promoting financial literacy; and

    —  take-up of benefits and Tax Credits.

  We have also been involved in a number of projects to benefit Newham residents including:

    —  Commissioning various specialist advice services, including:

      —  specialist into-work benefits advisers working with Job Brokers.

    —  SRU often contributes to policy consultations about welfare policies, and we have a long established record of influencing policies at the national and local level.

    —  We are well placed to contribute to this consultation because we work with both job brokers and claimants representative groups.

THE SOCIAL REGENERATION UNIT RESPONSE

1.  Summary of our conclusions

    —  We do not support a dual benefit system which we feel would make the system less fair, more complicated, and more prone to fraud and error.

    —  Some disabled people, including those with profound learning difficulties, need extra help to find work, contracts for job brokers need to reflect this.

    —  An extra test may be necessary but it should not determine the level of benefit paid to disabled claimants only the amount of support they need.

    —  Some of the proposed reforms are positive especially the into-work credit and earlier work focused interviews.

    —  Disabled people who feel able to work, but not for 16 hours a week should also get help and support from the benefits system.

  Contracts for Job Broker Services for disabled people should be more flexible, less target driven and more focused on the needs of disabled claimants.

2.  Reforms to incapacity benefits

  We are responding to this consultation as if the proposals for dual benefits are still current though we understand (from the DWP Forum) that may not be the case.

    —  You cannot address complications inherent in the current system by replacing a single benefit with a dual benefit. We are concerned about the implications for advice agencies already struggling with the effects of other recent reforms.

    —  These reforms do not seem designed to improve "incentives" to work, they seem to be more about sticks than carrots. Other reforms, such as the into-work credit would be a much more effective incentive.

    —  It is impossible to distinguish between incapacitated people who can or cannot work. There will always be some with major disabilities who are determined to overcome all barriers to work. Others may appear to have less serious disabilities but feel unable to work.

    —  It is likely that fraud and error will increase, simply because there is an extra test and a more complex system.

    —  The move to a dual benefit system is not the best way to address problems with the current system. What is required is more flexible, specialist help, genuinely tailored to the needs of disabled people, plus guaranteed incentives to work.

    —  Earlier work focused interviews are a good idea and so is the into-work credit.

    —  The Permitted Work scheme needs to be simplified, and earnings disregards for income related benefits need to be raised to give incentives to those receiving them.

    —  Working Tax Credit should be paid to disabled people working under 16 hours.

3.  The experience of sick and disabled people

    —  Disabled people often complain that the help available to them is not sufficiently tailored to their needs, what is called specialist help is often the usual service with a few extras.

    —  They often feel that advisers are more interested in getting them of benefit than helping them find work suitable for them.

    —  Schemes like the Access to Work scheme and Work-step are badly publicised and difficult to access.

    —  There are not enough Disability Employment Advisers.

    —  Some profoundly disabled people, including people with learning difficulties, feel left out because they are difficult to help and require more support and are less likely to give the Job Broker a successful outcome.

    —  The current earnings disregards for income related benefits are a disincentive to those who want to do some work but do not feel able to work 16 hours a week.

4.  The role of the private and voluntary sectors

    —  Contracts need to be more flexible, and providers should be encouraged to work in partnership, for example Job Brokers should not seek to provide benefits advice directly themselves when a local advice agency could do a better job.

    —  Targets for the disabled need to be less target driven as this conflicts with the need to put the needs of the individual claimant first.

Chris Duran

27 July 2005



 
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