Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by A4e after the publication of the Welfare Reform Green Paper


  A4e welcomes this opportunity to further contribute to the evolving policy for Incapacity Benefit Reform following the publication of the Welfare Reform Green Paper.

  The response takes the form of comments relating to key points in the green paper and is limited to issues that relate to IB Reform and A4e's areas of expertise.

  Over the last year we have provided training and employment services to over 6,000 disabled clients and helped almost 3,200 clients back into work. A4e has built considerable expertise in delivering client-centred provision through our delivery of over 260 welfare to work related contracts on behalf of DWP and Jobcentre Plus, across 90 delivery centres from Edinburgh to Exeter. Our philosophy is that work provides opportunities for personal and professional development, and that it is a partnership between individual, employer and Government that leads to success.

  Over the last three years we have been specifically researching and piloting approaches through our existing programmes to develop an effective delivery methodology for working with this particular client group. This has been a deliberate strategic approach, pre-empting the trend in unemployment decline and in anticipation of the emerging requirements of the economically inactive. This includes developing expert provision through our Jobcentre Plus LOT, BET and SIBS contracts to specifically target this client cohort. In addition we are also working closely with other Government departments and local authorities to ensure that we link provision to associated reforms in the marketplace, Local Enterprise Grant Initiatives and Direct Payment for Social Care, that impact on our client's lives.

  On the basis of our experience and principles, A4e would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to share more in depth views and dialogue on the IB reform agenda, and to continue to actively contribue to this consultation agenda, building from our established experience in this arena. We strongly believe that the IB programme must not be viewed in isolation but must be part of a coherent programme that links welfare to work, enterprise creation and workforce development. As such, we pride ourselves in effectively working across all these areas.


  There is undoubtedly a need to dispel the myth that people in receipt of incapacity-related benefits are incapable of working. The proposed new benefit structure will go a long way to signal that whilst a person's usual employment may no longer be an option, this does not mean that work is no longer an option. Additionally, the proposed benefit system will introduce a process of regular contact between the maority of claimants and Jobcentre Plus and supporting organisations—something that is only currently available on a limited basis in PtW pilot areas through mandatory work-focused interviews.

  However, statistics show that the flow of new claimants onto IB is significantly slowing down—it is the cohort of stock claimants that is the problem, particularly those who have been on IB for two years plus. Maybe it is for legal reasons that stock claimants will remain on their current benefit until a benefit break arises, but it is disappointing to see that this radical and much needed reform will not directly impact on the main problem area.

  Paragraphs 109 and 110 of the green paper state that the proposal is to work more proactively with existing customers and claims that since February 2005 PtW pilots have been extended to require "some" existing claimants to take part in three work-focused interviews. However, these statements are very vague and the implication is that no clear and consistent method of establishing regular contact with existing claimants has been formulated.

  Communication is probably the most important method by which IB claimant numbers will be reduced. There is still a significant lack of information getting through to existing IB claimants about the positive psychological, social and financial benefits to be gained through economic activity and the advice and support mechanisms that are there to help them. People must be given the positive message directly, rather than receiving fragmented and emotion sound bites from the media or by work of mouth. It is vital that JCP and the private and voluntary sectors work closely together to get a clear message to existing claimants.


  One of A4es specialised programmes that was suffering poor IB claimant take-up, despite this cohort representing 60% of the total people claiming benefit in the area. JCP locally claimed that they rarely had contact with IB claimants and that we needed to contact people direct. We agreed and asked for contact details of IB claimants in the area—the list was withheld for procedural reasons.


  It is excellent to see that the proposed PCA will focus on assessing people's capability for work rather than a numerical points system that triggers benefit entitlement.

  Additionally, A4e supports the proposal that the exempt group will not be based on the specific condition, but rather on how that condition impacts on individual functionality. In paragraph 22 of the green paper, blind people are used as an example. Our concern would be aimed at how rigid the system of determining individual capability for work will be—ie is it reasonable to follow the same process and assessment criteria as for those with less severe conditions? People with severe health conditions and disabilities have extra factors that must be taken into consideration. For example, time is a crucial factor—a person with a recently acquired condition will have a vastly different level of capability for work to that of a person who has had the same condition for a long period of time.

  This needs to be carefully thought through if we are to avoid seriously disadvantaging individuals and creating significant opportunity for negative publicity.

  The green paper states that PCAs will be more regular to ensure that people with improving work-related capability will be more easily identified. This regularity must be standardised if the current irregular and subjective re-assessment process is to be avoided. Steps must be taken to promote PCA review as a positive step towards independent economic activity and to avoid the perception that is a punitive measure, as it is widely regarded at the moment.


  A4e welcomes the proposal that future PtW provision will be delivered primarily by the private and voluntary sector and supports the notion of payment by results. This recognises the expertise of the sector and the wider scope of support and time commitment that can be offered to clients.

  Future provision needs to be mapped in terms of revised JCP Districts to avoid post-code lottery eligibility for advice, support and incentives. There is currently some confusion over the geographical parameters of some earlier announced pilot areas and the re-shaped JCP Districts, both of which may clash at the next pilot phase due to commence in April 2006—clarity is required for all concerned.


  Extension of the 52-Week Linking Rule will go a long way to help people take the leap of faith necessary to go from benefit into work. However, this will only be advantageous if it is effectively communicated to claimants.

  The main problem with the current system is that it is only known to a minority of clamants and eligibility is based on a relatively onerous but essential registration requirement. The proposal to make registration automatic will resolve the eligibility issue, but to gain client confidence, it will still need to be confirmed in writing that the client is covered under the rule, providing that there has been no material change in their condition and that this is confirmed by an appropriate medical certificate.


  In the same way that future PtW programmes are expected to be delivered by the private and voluntary sector, the proposed pilot initiative to have an Employment Advisor (EA) presence in GP surgeries would also benefit from the expertise and network capability of the sector.

  Pilots should be geographically diverse and appropriately funded—ie provision should not be restricted to areas where ESF funding can be secured. Additionally, as this will initially be a pilot initiative, it is important to try out different delivery models, rather than a "one size fits all" model.

  It is essential that EAs are seen as "honest brokers" and that they provide impartial information, advice and guidance in-line with the matrix standard. Additionally, the facility should not exclude people who are already in employment but need access to advice and support to help them stay in work.

  This is a very important proposal as it has the potential to impact on employees, people on JSA and other benefits, SSP volumes, workplace occupational health, IB claimants, in fact anyone and anything that can benefit from a synergy of medical and employment expertise.


  It is increasingly coming to A4es attention that in-work support for people with emerging or developing health conditions and disabilitis is significantly lacking under current arrangements. It is our experience that most employers are initially supportive when such conditions emerge, but many quickly become less supportive as the condition develops to the extent they would need to make alterations or adjustments, temporary or otherwise, to keep the person in employment.


  As office-based employee of a local ambulance service was diagnosed as having MS—he is fortunate to be living in an area where ground-breaking drugs are made readily available to patients, so his symptoms are mostly controlled, although he has relapses when he is quickly fatigued to the extent of being incapacitated, but after 30 minutes rest he is re-charged. His employer was initially very supportive but more recently, as they became more "uncomfortable" with his condition and how it appeared to other employees, become less supportive and, in fact, pressured him into virtual retirement due to ill health. A few minor adjustments could have made it possible for the employee to continue to work for the foreseeable future, but the easier opition was for the employee to move onto benefit and the employer to recruit a new member of staff.

  The employee received no support and is now on IB—his psychological and physical condition is rapidly deteriorating.

  A4e would fully support initiatives that provide in-work and back-to-work support for employees. Again, private and voluntary sector expertise would come into its own in this area of advice and support.


  Proposals to make Test Trading an option for people in receipt of ESA in order to help business start-up will be a significant step forward. All existing NDDP clients will be in receipt of IB or equivalent benefits up to the expected end date of the programme in March 2007. This means that should a successor programme be agreed, claimants will continue on the same benefit up to and potentially after 2008. It is, therefore, essential that legislation preventing current claimants from working (self-employed or otherwise) beyond 16 hours a week, without having to leave their benefit, is amended to allow Test Trading to be accessed.


  A simplified, uniform approach to calculation of Housing and Council Tax benefits is essential. People in receipt of such benefit need an accurate calculation regarding how moving into work, part-time or full-time, will affect (if at all) their benefits. Because the calculations and waivers etc differ according to various local authority areas, it is very difficult for JCP or NDDP Job Brokers to give an accurate indication of how these benefits will be affected. Fear of losing Housing and Council Tax benefit is ome of the key reasons quoted for not accepting full-time and part-time jobs—and this is from people who have already taken the proactive and voluntary step of registering with a NDDP Job Broker.

  As social housing rent rates tend to be more stable and less diverse than the private rented sector, a more simplified system should be considered.

  A4e supports the proposal to generally make benefit payments to the claimant rather than to the landlord or local authority. This will have a clean impact on accommodation choice and will promote financial responsibility. However, provision must be made to ensure that people who are less able to be financially responsible are given support or, as a last resort, payments are again made direct to the landlord—aspirations of financial responsibility and inclusion must not be allowed to lead to homelessness.


  Although childcare is mentioned under the section of the green paper that deals with single parents, it must be noted that child and other care responsibilities are currently rating highly in reasons not to work. Because many people on IB have been considered as "always available to provide care", "pick the kids up from school", etc, they have often become a usual suspect to the extent that a new, strong barrier to work has emerged.

  Stable, appropriately-financed, professional and readily available care facilities must be available for those cases with genuine need. Additionally, people may need to be educated away from the "you can always rely on Uncle Fred" syndrome—maybe another area where private and voluntary expertise could come to the fore.

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