Memorandum submitted by Action for Blind
Action for Blind people warmly welcomes the
opportunity to contribute to this most timely inquiry. Action
for Blind People is a national charity which helps 20,000 blind
and partially sighted people each year. We focus on four key areas
including employment and benefit(s) provision.
The Committee is clearly aware of the low level
of employment amongst disabled people, currently around 50% however,
this situation is very much worse for visually impaired people
with only 25% of blind and partially sighted people of working
age being in employment. We believe that there are a great variety
of factors contributing to this appalling situation which we shall
We are very supportive of the Pathways to Work
scheme and have anecdotal evidence that they are working very
well. As a consequence of this, we believe that it should be fully
evaluated and rolled out nationally before any major changes are
made to incapacity benefits.
What are the Implications of DWP's Proposals for
the new Structure of Incapacity Benefits?
There are indications that the new benefit could
be rather complicated as a result of its dual nature. The current
system's complication could to a large extent be of its own making.
The Personal Capability Test is the means by which a person is
assessed as being entitled to receive incapacity benefit after
28 weeks. If the belief is that the current system is too lax
and that too many people are coming onto the benefit, then the
solution lies with amending the PCA rather than altering a benefit
which is the main source of income for a large number of blind
and partially sighted people. However, Action for Blind People
feel that the current test works very well as registered blind
people are exempted and generally partially sighted people will
pass the test. This does not stop registered blind and partially
sighted people who feel that they are job ready looking for work,
but the exemption rule acknowledges that people with the most
severe conditions do not have to look for work if they are not
Will the Reforms Help to Improve Work Incentives
for Sick and Disabled People?
Our major concern about incentives is that many
visually impaired people are not much better off when they do
move into work. This is because of the low earnings disregard
within housing benefit and council tax benefit and also to some
extent the result of the problems with the administration of Tax
Credits. We would like to feel that the level of expertise exists
within Jobcentre Plus to equip blind and partially sighted people
with the skills which they will need to enter work but suspect
that this may not be so. With such a high level of unemployment
amongst this group it is going to be the case that many have been
out of work for such a long time, that they will need a great
deal of support before they are in a position to search for employment.
For example low levels of self esteem. The "Condition Management
Programme" within the Pathways to Work scheme has successfully
confronted this issue, which is why we feel that the scheme should
be fully evaluated and rolled out nationally before any changes
Is it Possible to Distinguish Between Those who
are Able to Return to Work and Those who Cannot?
As we have stated above we welcome proposals
for getting blind and partially sighted people who want to work
into employment. However, it is vital that each person is treated
individually rather than applying a one size fits all solution.
Just because two people have the same eye condition and are a
similar age does not mean their needs will be identical, and that
they will be at the same stage of employment readiness. What should
be borne in mind are previous experience of employment and the
length of time that the person concerned has been out of work.
Will the reforms address the main areas of concern
with the current system?
As we have mentioned above, this may not happen
as reform of the benefit may not be the correct approach. This
is because the problems may lie with the means by which a person
becomes a recipient of incapacity benefit through the Personal
Capability Assessment. Furthermore it is vital that issues such
as re-training and other support is kept in mind. And, as we indicated
at the outset we are convinced of the merit of the Pathways to
Work scheme and therefore feel most strongly that reform of the
benefit is premature at this stage. It would be much wiser to
undertake a full evaluation of them before any major change to
benefit entitlement was to be enacted.
The "better off" calculations carried
out by our welfare rights team indicate that there is a need to
improve incentives, as in many cases visually impaired people
do not benefit financially from entering work. For example the
low earnings disregard within housing and council tax benefits
and the restrictions applied within the permitted work rules.
This is without taking into account the administrative problems
encountered by many people applying for Working Tax Credit once
they find work.
Our work in this area shows very clearly that
blind and partially sighted people would rather be in receipt
of a decent salary than living on benefit. It is important to
note here the nature of the debate and in particular to dispel
the myth that being in receipt of incapacity benefit equals a
more than comfortable existence, it clearly does not with the
annual amount of benefit received being less than £4,000. Clearly
the reason 75% of visually impaired people are not in work is
not as a result of the generous level of benefit which they are
getting. It is however due to factors such as the attitudes of
employers, recent research showing that 90% of whom consider a
blind or partially sighted person difficult or impossible to employ.
There are a number of ways in which the Government could help
to address this such as through the Access to Work scheme: We
welcome the Government's increased investment in the Access to
Work scheme, however, clearly increased employment amongst visually
impaired people will cause increased demands upon the limited
budget. Furthermore research has shown that employers are most
unlikely to have heard of this scheme, which helps to account
for their perceptions that blind and partially sighted people
would not be employable.
How will the Reforms Help those who are not Able
or not yet Ready, to Work?
We would like to think that increased assistance
from Disability Employment Advisers at Jobcentre Plus will enable
visually impaired people to be better equipped to enter the labour
market. Clearly as we have mentioned above, this must be in conjunction
with increased awareness of, and funding for the Access to Work
Scheme. And, raising the earnings disregard to enable work to
pay, thus raising the incentive for entering employment.
30 September 2005