Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Emma James


  1.  This submission (overleaf) has drawn upon the live experiences of Specialist Incapacity Benefit Advisers (SIBAs) and Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) working in the field in the Gloucestershire/ Wiltshire/Swindon (GWS) district. Although not yet a "Pathways to Work" District the team over the last few years has gained much experience about what works well and what doesn't work so well when trying to place clients with disabilities back in to work.

  2.  Many of the current incentives/programmes in the general "Welfare to Work "programme work well for clients with disabilities and although Credit will be given to these in the main text the team have identified the following barriers to disabled clients progression back to work. These cause frustration to Clients and Advisers alike and their reform can only expedite a return to work for many.

    (i)    Permitted Work Anomalies/Restrictions.

    (ii)    Test Trading Income Restrictions.

    (iii)    Personal Capability Assessments (PCAs)—Conflict of interest within DWP—greater "Joined up Government" required.

    (iv)  SIBAs/DEAs and NDDP Job Brokers—Definition and Dichotomy of roles.


What are the implications of DWPs proposals for the new structure of Incapacity Benefits?

  3.  Although the simplification of benefit rates may highlight the message that Incapacity Benefit (IB) for some is only Short Term financial support until work becomes a viable option, it is felt that the new structure of (IB) will not radically simplify Incapacity Benefits. Many complexities and anomalies that provide financial barriers to employment exist between clients on IB and Income Support (IS) already, that are not being addressed by this change. It is the existing barriers that need removing before the new structure can claim to champion simplification.

  4.  Permitted Work is used by SIBAs/DEAs as a vital tool or stepping stone back to work without greatly compromising Benefits, usually for up to six months. For some however this is not the case.

  5.  A young person on IB after one year who receives £92.50 per week can earn up to £78 per week. He is living with his parents and is not entitled to Housing Benefit. The only effect on both incomes will be that both are taxable and may attract Income Tax approaching £8-£10 per week maximum. Clearly an excellent motivational scheme in this example.

  6.  Contrast this with the same person living in rented accommodation with a rent liability of £80 per week. Typically they might have to contribute £15 of their non means tested IB towards their rent due to the level of their benefit. Introduce £78 per week permitted work and Two thirds of this will be swallowed up due to the incumbent reduction in Housing Benefit and then remove the Income tax liability and a client may only see £16-£18 per week of their £78 earnings for as much as 15 hours effort. For some with working partners and other means of financial support the experience is more important than the money, but for many working up to 15 hours for little more than a pound an hour net simply is not incentive enough. It should be borne in mind many do not earn £78 or work less hours in this scenario and so their net gain is even less. These scenarios are not "penny perfect" but are typical of what SIBAs/DEAs are confronted with on a regular basis.

  7.  It could be argued that disabled customers on IS are protected under the Permitted work scheme as IS is not taxable, earnings up to £78 will not attract tax. Also, as long as Income Support remains in payment even at £1 per week Housing Benefit will remain in payment in full. All well and good , but the earnings Disregards on IS mean that benefit is reduced pound for pound after the first £5 for clients in their first year of receipt unless they receive a Disability Premium which normally takes a year when the disregard increases to £20. Nonetheless £20 is the maximum this client will make from a maximum of £78 earnings.

Is it possible to distinguish between those who are able to return to work and those who cannot?

  8.  SIBAs/DEAs feel able to accurately distinguish between those who are able to return to work and those who cannot. It is also felt that it is the individual determination to work again (the human spirit) that is a greater factor in the return of disabled people to return to work and whilst disability issues are important/relevant they are secondary to the will to return.

  9.  Having said that, the work of SIBAs/DEAs in determining whether a disabled person can achieve a return to work is actually compromised sometimes by the DWP itself!! In the form of the Personal Capability Assessment (PCA). Having worked with clients for months or even as long as a year or more investing money in their futures, SIBAs/DEAs have found that clients have been deemed fit for work via the PCA, sometimes merely because they have mentioned they are working with a SIBA/DEA or have been doing unpaid "work placements/tasters." A significant proportion of clients have mental illnesses in GWS district and many have been set back months by such decisions. It is felt a national mechanism is required where clients can be waived the PCA if they are working with a SIBA/DEA for a fixed period of time at the discretion of the Benefit processing supervisor.

Will the reforms address the main areas of concern with the current system?

  10.  It is felt that a Positive effect of mandatory Work Focused Interviews (WFIs) is that a captive audience is created who can be advertised to and sold the benefits of the service. On a negative point, although the WFI is mandatory the action plan is not and there is a danger that a lot of time will be used up by clients who will attend as required but pay "lip service" to the action plan.

Are people with different disabilities and health conditions, in both pilot and non pilot areas given appropriate support by Jobcentre Plus?

  11.  Whilst the department is target driven it is felt that SIBA/DEAs cannot fully address the needs of those furthest removed from the labour market. It is imperative that provisions/tools are available for those removed as well as closer to the labour market.

  12.  An example of this is Supported Permitted Work (SPW). SPW was specifically designed to allow disabled people to do some work that were unlikely or never going to be able to work 16 hour per week or more and thus become economically independent. It does however allow them to become socially inclusive by doing some work. SPW rules state the required Support Worker must be someone whose job it is to arrange work for sick and disabled people. These people should belong to Public or Local authorities or a voluntary organisation.

  13.  Ironically, Job Brokers specifically employed by the Department to support disabled clients back in to work (albeit, ideally 16 hours or more) are not allowed to execute this function.

How will the reforms help those who are not able, or not yet ready, to work?

  14.  The ideas and provisions behind the pilot offices in theory sound excellent. The condition management schemes sound superb identifying what clients can do with a managed condition as opposed to what they cannot do without support. The emphasis is on the positive.

  15.  It is however feared that once the reforms roll out nationally there will not be "real money" behind "real provision" and if this is not the case the reforms certainly will not be able to help those who are not able to work or are not yet ready.

Can the reformed systems support those with variable and manageable medical conditions, or those who are able to work part-time? Are those with mental health difficulties adequately supported?

  16.  The flaws in the Current Permitted Work scheme and the PCA have already been highlighted and seem to affect those most sensitive to change and destabilisation. Predominantly, but not exclusively so, these are clients with mental health conditions and whilst a well funded Condition Management Programme will be of great benefit, the barriers already in the system need removing.

  17.  Another such barrier is that of the Permitted work limit of £78 being applied to "Test Trading". Many clients with episodic illnesses who cannot work to structured hours had found solace in the Self employment Programme where under supervision they could Test Trade their business for up to six months whilst receiving IB. Although they could not access "profits" for living costs they could test potential income from the business in a live environment. This unfortunately was dismissed as not permissible. This meant clients had to swap to Jobcentre Plus payments in order to test trade properly and cannot guarantee a return to IB should the business not succeed and thus risking going on to the lower rate JSA (if the Dr refuses to issue a sick note) following any abortive test trade. This had been particularly useful for clients with ME/Post Viral/chronic fatigue syndromes. However, since the change the uptake from IB clients has dropped considerably with the less attractive Jobcentre Plus Allowance Route. It is recommended that parity to Test Trading is brought to all clients on whatever Benefits so embryonic businesses can be tested as fully as possible in their given markets.

Is Jobcentre Plus sufficiently resourced to deliver Pathways pilots, both in terms of staffing and financing?

What has been the effect of the DWP efficiencies agenda?

  18.  Although not a Pathways pilot district SIBAs/DEAs in GWS have found that programme budget restrictions are proving a barrier to work in some cases. Rules are restricting access to the right provisions for the right person. For example, Training budgets are restricted so courses over 13 weeks cannot be accessed.

  19.  Another more worrying example is that counselling provision set up via MIND as a provider is no longer available to IB Clients. This would be particularly beneficial to clients with Mental Health conditions on IB/IS yet it IS available to some JSA clients as JSA has fully mandatory status.

  20.  It is felt that often the service advertised as available to disabled clients is not that what is available on the ground. The marketing does not match the product. The fiscal constraints upon the treasury are appreciated, but with Contracts Managers working with diminishing Programme budgets the ability of advisers to deliver on the ground for the disabled will be more difficult as provisions reduce. Pathways to Work when rolled out nationally must not mirror what is happening in Non Pilot offices now, if it is truly going to make a difference to the lives of disabled people.

How do personal advisers work in collaboration with other Jobcentre Plus staff such as Disability Employment Advisers and with Job Brokers?

  21.  SIBAs have an excellent working relationship with DEAs in GWS and understand fully the "hand off" areas of work and which adviser is best suited to which client.

  22.  SIBAs & DEAs have good working relationships with Job Brokers in GWS, but as the role of the SIBAs has grown; Job Brokers are becoming more and more obsolete. It is often found that they refer back to Jobcentre provision which can only accessed via SIBAs or DEAs anyway and the Job brokers have become little more than "signposting" organisations. In some senses we are paying somebody to sell our own stock elsewhere which we sell in our own shop already.

  23.  Although the analogy may be poor, clearly there is a need for Job Brokers to provide a diversified product, a specialism that is unique to them. SIBAs have long argued that Job Brokers should literally be a "Brokerage of Jobs" as the name implies. In reality Disabled clients largely are matched in to jobs by SIBAs or find jobs themselves. It is felt Job brokers would be best engaged developing work placements/jobs with empathetic employers for our mutual clients and carve their niche in this area.

Are local labour markets able to provide the jobs needed?

What is the experience of local employers?

  24.  Locally in GWS district it has been found that jobs can be provided. However, as numbers of clients grow with first Jobcentre Plus rollout and ultimately when Pathways to Work rolls out demand for suitable jobs for disabled clients will increase.

  25.  It is felt that some lessons could be learnt from the work of DEAs and the success of their Workstep provisions. For many years clients often with severe disabilities have been placed with jobs via Workstep providers from the private sector who source jobs from empathetic employers. Perhaps Workstep should be expanded to encompass funding for more SIBA clients or even expand the number of DEAs if the provision grows.

  26.  This could also be dovetailed with the suggestion Job Brokers should broker jobs with empathetic employers. Moreover though it is felt that this function should be carried out by one large well funded organisation as there seems to be too many fingers in the disability pie.

  27.  Finally, it has on many occasions been argued that prevention is better than cure. Although SIBA/DEAs cannot stop illness occurring, the DEAs are often able to guide employers on how to re-deploy existing staff with regard to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) who cannot execute their existing roles. This surely saves money for Government, employers & employees alike as a disabled staff member can sustain existing employment. A greater advertising, awareness & recognition of this DEA "Retention Case" work could prevent many people ever coming on to IB in the first place.

Emma James

27 September 2005

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