Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Employment Opportunities

WHO WE ARE

  1.  Employment Opportunities for people with Disabilities ("Employment Opportunities") is a national charity of 25 years' standing which provides support to people with disabilities and medical conditions seeking work and to employers seeking to recruit or retain people with such conditions. We have contracts throughout Great Britain delivering Government programmes such as New Deal for Disabled People, Workstep and Workprep. We also provide more generic services and projects funded by the European Social Fund and non-statutory funding sources, including services contracted for by individual employers. We operate from 18 regional centres and a Headquarters in London which includes an Outreach and Business Development team specialising in graduate employment and work with major employers. Some third of our staff themselves have disabilities or health conditions.

  2.  In 2004 we helped nearly 2,000 people, with collectively a range of more than 150 conditions, both physical and mental, into employment, training or work experience. This included some 950 job entries.

  We became one of the leading national New Deal for Disabled People (NDDP) providers, with over 50% of the service users we registered on the programme finding employment. 2004 saw a total of NDDP 716 job entries, and 556 sustainments of employment for more than three months, reflecting a better than 70% conversion rate from job entries to sustainments. Our emphasis on quality assurance resulted in our emergence as the third largest Workstep provider in the UK (with a total of 335 cases handled) and one of the top performers, with a progression rate of some 20% into open employment.

  Under our Workprep contracts we worked with some 310 people of whom 85 were helped into work and others benefited from self-development and work placements.

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES

  3.  Clients with mental health issues and learning disabilities account for over a third of our client base. This is consistent with findings in recent research that in every region, mental and behavioural disorders are the leading cause of eligibility for IB.

  4.  The limited roll-out of the Pathways to Work pilots to date means that our direct experience of Pathways is limited, principally to the Derbyshire pilot.

CONTENTS OF THIS SUBMISSION

  5.  This submission makes comments in the following areas of the Committee's proposed Inquiry, though it does not seek to address all the individual questions listed in the press notice:

    —    Reform to incapacity benefits.

    —    The future roll-out of Pathways to Work.

    —    Support for sick and disabled people to move back into work.

    —    Jobcentre Plus resources.

    —    Existing employment initiatives.

    —    The role of the private and voluntary sectors.

REFORM TO INCAPACITY BENEFITS

  6.  Employment Opportunities strongly supports the Government's commitment to achieve a fairer, more inclusive society where nobody is held back by disadvantage or lack of opportunity. We welcome the Government's intention to deliver a programme of support which promotes work as the best form of welfare for people of working age; and the steps which have been and are being taken to improve the rights and opportunities available to disabled people.

  7.  We support the reform of incapacity benefit within the purpose of providing an improved framework through which people can be supported back to work. We see considerable merit in the Pathways concept of work focused interviews coupled with targeted health and employment interventions as a twin-track approach in improving people's prospects of getting back to and being able to remain in work. We welcome the Government's recognition that many of those currently on benefit want to work. We agree that they need targeted assistance to encourage a greater proportion of them to seek work actively and to overcome the complex and difficult barriers they face.

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES

  We tackle the benefits system to remove benefit traps and to shift the focus away from what people cannot do to what they can do is in our view widely acknowledged.

  8.  Incapacity benefit reform in itself is only one element, though an important element, in the overall changes needed to encourage and help people with disabilities and medical conditions to access and remain in work. We welcome the Government's recognition that reforms to the benefit system need to be accompanied by an effective package of measures to address the barriers which people with disabilities and medical conditions face in getting and staying in work. There needs to be the right mix of support and incentives in the different elements of the package, and there needs to be flexibility and choice so that the needs of individuals can be met in a targeted way.

  9.  We have considerable concerns (paragraphs 19-20) that resources on the scale required may not be available within the funding and manpower levels currently assumed in the Jobcentre Plus five year plan. Our own experience is that people with disabilities and medical conditions are a very diverse group and that many face multiple and complex problems. Many of those we help are not yet ready for work; and skills and confidence to find a job can be low after years away from employment. 35% of the people we helped to find jobs last year had not worked for three or more years.

  10.  Depending on such factors as an individual's previous work experience and the length of time he or she has been on benefit, the employment-related needs of IB recipients can include training, work experience, assistance with self-development and intensive support in finding and keeping a job, in addition to steps to keep people focussed on the prospect of returning to work and to address health-related barriers to employment, such as rehabilitation needs. In our view the elements of the Pathways to Work pilots, when combined with the existing employment programmes such as New Deal for Disabled People, Workstep and Workprep, do in principle address the main requirements, but these initiatives need to be properly resourced and funded. The national roll-out of Pathways is, in our view, an essential prerequisite to introducing the benefit reforms, and so is the provision of employment services of a kind and on a scale capable of meeting the varied needs of clients.

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES

  11.  We are aware that the Government is currently considering the question of successor provision to New Deal for Disabled People within a wider examination of employment related services. Such provision needs to operate in a complementary and joined-up way with the other aspects of Pathways. If the proposals in last year's White Paper Building on New Deal (BOND) are taken forward following the planned pilots we would hope that jobseekers with disabilities and medical conditions will benefit from any wider menu of support made available under BOND, since we see merit in the concept of a more flexible programme of support, offering more discretion to local managers and more client choice. However, it is of concern that the BOND pilots themselves are being curtailed because of funding shortage.

  12.  Whatever the nature of the main successor provision to NDDP it needs to be provided in sufficient volumes. This programme is responsible for a high proportion of Jobcentre Plus sick and disabled job outcomes. Take-up as a proportion of contracted-for volumes appears to be high, but in terms of available places these volumes do not represent more than a very small proportion of the eligible population and, nationally, it would appear that less than 4% of recipients of incapacity-related benefits are engaged with NDDP. These volumes will have to increase if IB reform and Pathways to Work are to be successful. Though this organisation has little direct experience of Pathways we are aware of research by other providers which suggests that the referral rates for registrations do, as might be expected, show an increase in Pathways pilot areas.

  13.  We also consider it important that provision for supported employment such as exists in the current Workstep programme should be retained, and preferably expanded, to provide the more intensive support which people with the most severe disabilities or health conditions may require. This kind of provision is essential for clients who need continued support over a significant time if they are to have a reasonable chance of progressing or returning to unsupported employment. Similarly, provision needs to be retained to address the needs of less job-ready clients unless the payments regime for NDDP successor provision is capable of recognising the more intensive preparatory support they require. The Access to Work scheme is also important in helping to assess and fund adjustments in the workplace for people with disabilities or long term medical conditions going beyond the adjustments required by the Disability Discrimination legislation.

  14.  We consider that the role and attitude of employers is crucial in reducing the numbers on benefit and increasing the numbers able to remain in or get employment. Our own organisation works closely with employers on disability awareness issues, including the positive business case for recruiting and retaining disabled people, and on appropriate workplace adjustments for individual employees. Positive support by Government through for example programmes to raise disability awareness issues in the workplace and to promote the use of occupational health services would be beneficial here. We welcome the provisions in the amended Disability Discrimination legislation to place a new disability equality duty on public authorities from December 2006, which includes the requirement to report on their practices in relation to the recruitment, development etc of disabled employees.

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES

  15.  The proposals for incapacity benefit reform recognise the need to ensure that work pays for all disabled people and that the financial risks to them of moving into or returning to work are minimised. We know that many disabled people are acutely apprehensive about the impact of a return to work on their financial well-being, particularly if there is any risk that employment may not be sustained. Moreover the interaction of benefits, tax and tax credits can be complex and difficult to understand. We therefore welcome the Government's announced intention to simplify and improve the operation of the linking rules from October 2006.

  16.  In the outline of the Government's proposals for IB reform the Rehabilitation Support Allowance for claimants who are expected to be able to work again is time-bound. It is therefore critically important that the targeted framework of support works effectively to ensure that individuals have the types and levels of assistance appropriate to their medical condition and circumstances. We are concerned that if claimants are not quickly enabled to return to work there will be an incentive on them to demonstrate that they qualify for Disability Sickness Allowance (DSA) and thereafter to demonstrate a continuing qualification for this allowance through a continuing level of unfitness to work, which could distract their focus from improving their health and looking for manageable and rewarding work. In short we are concerned that it may not be easy to prevent DSA from becoming the new IB. That said, however, we agree about the need to provide higher levels of support for people with the most serious conditions and disabilities, so long as the same employment support is available to those who want it.

THE FUTURE ROLL-OUT OF PATHWAYS TO WORK

  17.  As noted in paragraph 4 above, our experience of Pathways to date is very limited. In principle however we regard the national roll-out of Pathways as an essential prerequisite to the implementation of incapacity benefit reform. This must be accompanied by adequate employment-related services.

SUPPORT FOR SICK AND DISABLED PEOPLE TO MOVE BACK INTO WORK

  18.  We welcome the emphasis in Pathways and the outline proposals for incapacity benefit reform on the need for more active support from GPs and the wider NHS in supporting people to return to or remain in work. In some areas, however, such as rehabilitation services, it is far from clear that resources on an appropriate scale will be available or can be afforded within projected DWP funding (paragraph. 20). This needs to be addressed urgently.

JOBCENTRE PLUS RESOURCES

  19.  In terms of staffing, though recognising that DWP and Jobcentre Plus business planning envisages the re-rolling of staff to front-line deliver, we are concerned that the scale of the planned manpower reductions overall could jeopardise the effective delivery of the more manpower-intensive approach to individual clients which Pathways, IB reform and BOND would seem to require. We are aware of possible DWP initiatives to outsource some functions currently undertaken by Jobcentre Plus in-house. However, we are mindful of the need to avoid potential conflicts of interest and we agree with the NCVO's warning that charities must see service delivery as a means to an end, not an end in itself.

  20.  In terms of funding we have considerable concerns as to the adequacy of DWP funding to pay for the volume of employment-related services likely to be required for a full roll-out of Pathways and to underpin IB reform. The same goes for health resources on the assumption that it will continue to fall to DWP to fund health-related interventions.

EXISTING EMPLOYMENT INITIATIVES

  21.  As noted in paragraph 4 our experience of Pathways has so far been limited because of the limited coverage of the existing pilots. As we see it, effective employment-related services are an essential accompaniment of Pathways and IB reform. Participation in the existing NDDP programme is voluntary for IB recipients and the level of provision is geared to what is a relatively low take-up by the eligible population although we and other providers believe we could deliver more outcomes if we had larger contract volumes and the programme was more actively marketed. We would expect demand for employment-related programmes to increase very considerably with the wider roll-out of Pathways, especially once it is accompanied by the reformed benefits regime.

THE ROLE OF THE PRIVATE AND VOLUNTARY SECTORS

  22.  This charity provides employment-related services for people with disabilities and health conditions and is not currently in a position to provide interventions in other areas of Pathways such as condition management or rehabilitation services. We are aware of a view among some providers that the private and voluntary sectors have not been sufficiently involved in the pilots, and that aspects of Pathways could and should have been opened to competition to provide some means of benchmarking good practice.

  23.  In our view the main role for the private and voluntary sector in IB reform should continue to be the delivery of specific interventions and services whether health or employment related.

  24.  As regards the development of policy in this area it is encouraging that comments were invited on the Government's outline proposals for IB reform on which there has been some feedback eg at the DWP Disability Forum on 9 June. However, it has been disappointing to learn recently that the next step may be a White Paper instead of the planned Green Paper.

Karin Pappenheim

3 October 2005



 
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