Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Disability Employment Coalition

INTRODUCTION

  The Disability Employment Coalition is a network of organisations that work together to promote and achieve greater inclusion of disabled people in the world of work.

  DEC was formed in the-mid 1990s to raise awareness of the campaign on employment issues affecting disabled people. Member organisations include: Action for Blind People, BASE, Disability Alliance, Leonard Cheshire, Mencap, Mind, National Federation of the Blind, National League of the Blind and Disabled, Papworth, RADAR, Remploy, Royal National Institute of the Blind, Royal National Institute for Deaf People, Scope, Shaw Trust and TUC.

  The Disability Employment Coalition (DEC) welcomes the Committee's decision to set up this inquiry into the Government's programme to get more disabled people into work and reform incapacity benefit. The reduction of the number of disabled people who live in poverty and feel unable to play a meaningful role in society is dependent on the success of this strategy.

  However, DEC also reflects the fears and concerns of members that the impending process may not be helpful to achieving our aims of full social and economic inclusion for people with disabilities unless issues are properly thought through and developed before introduction.

REFORM OF INCAPACITY BENEFIT

  There are signs that the new benefit could be complex because of the dual benefit approach. The complications inherent in the current system may only exist because of the DWP's own (Personal Capability Assessment) test. If the DWP feel it is too easy to access IB, they should consider whether it is the test that needs changing rather than making a blanket change to the benefit. We are also hoping that the new benefit will not be contributory and that there will be an adequate appeals mechanism.

  It would be hoped that JC+ Staff will have the knowledge and skills to help disabled people back to work. Welfare rights teams in DEC member organisations often carry out calculations as to whether their clients will be better off in work and due to the low, only £20 income disregard for housing benefit and difficulties that the Inland Revenue have had in administering Working Tax Credit does not encourage disabled people to return to work.

  We don't believe that it is always easy to distinguish between those who are able to return to work and those who cannot. Whilst we welcome the fact that the DWP are supporting some disabled people find work it is also important to realise that some people will not be able to work. It is also important that the reform programme doesn't concentrate on those thought to be more nearly work ready at the expense of those who are further from the Labour market but who still want to work and take their place in society.

  RNIB believe for example, that the fact that blind people are automatically exempt from the capability test means that they are simply written off.

  Even where two people are of the same age and have the same condition the DWP needs to consider the different work experiences of the people concerned.

  We believe that the fraud in the current Incapacity Benefit system is currently very low despite press/media reports to the contrary.

  Contrary to perceived wisdom the numbers on incapacity benefit are also falling.

  The 2001 Benefit Review of Incapacity Benefit, which found that fraud levels were so low the review team did not have enough examples to measure them properly, and had to rely on an estimate instead:

    "Due to the small number of confirmed fraud cases found during the review, it is not possible to produce a robust central estimate of the total annual value of benefit overpaid due to fraud for short-term Incapacity Benefit and long-term Incapacity Benefit. However, an indicative upper limit has been produced. It is estimated that the amount of overpayment is less than £19 million, ie less than 0.3% of all expenditure on cases in receipt of these rates of IB. Similarly, it is estimated that the percentage of all IBST (H) and IBLT cases that are fraudulent is less than 0.5%."

  The figure of less than 1% should be compared with the National Audit Offices estimates of Income Support fraud (5.8% of spending) and Jobseeker's Allowance fraud (9.0%).

  DEC is concerned that the reforms will not in fact address the main areas of concern for those on Incapacity Benefit. If there are problems with those in receipt of Incapacity Benefit who others may feel shouldn't have qualified perhaps it is the current test (Personal Capability Assessment) that needs to be amended rather than introducing a new system.

  Alternatively in the experience of DEC members the Pathways to Work Pilots have been generally successful and perhaps they should be rolled out and extended rather than look for a wholesale change to Incapacity Benefit processes and payments.

  DEC therefore feels that the proposed "wholesale" reform may be a step too far with only short term results and suggest that a steady and progressive reform over a long period with a particular emphasis on investment in support for disabled people who want to work as the first priority would achieve a much longer lasting result of social and economic inclusion for more people.

THE EXPERIENCE OF DISABLED PEOPLE AND PEOPLE WITH A SERIOUS ILLNESS

  In our members experience most disabled people would rather demonstrate their independence and be in work earning a decent wage rather than being dependent on benefits.

  The headline figures mask the fact that some groups face extreme discrimination in the employment market. For example on 27% of blind and partially sighted people of working age are in employment and the figure for those on the autistic spectrum and with mild and moderate learning difficulties is only 10%. These figures are not because disabled people do not want to work. Instead it is because of society's and employers' attitude to recruitment, proper support systems within the work place and job retention, limited understanding/knowledge and the lack of investment in such support processes as Access to Work.

  DEC welcomes and supports the resolution passed by this year's (2005) Trades Union Congress which calls for three measures to support more disabled people gaining and retaining employment and believes that the DWP should act on these three areas as they will be active measures to both reduce the number of people being forced on to IB and enable more people with disabilities and a serious illness to access work:

    —  Many disabled people with a new or changed impairment lose their jobs unnecessarily each year and may go onto Incapacity Benefit. We believe that it makes far more sense to catch this group before they become unemployed, ensuring that the right support, re-training and rehabilitation is in place to allow them to stay in work. Disability Leave is a scheme that we would like to see established to achieve this goal, enabling newly disabled people, and those whose impairments change, to retain their employment, through providing a limited period for rehabilitation or retraining. Disability Leave, we believe, is the right initiative for addressing the tendency of people who become disabled while at work to lose their jobs.

    —  More funding and publicity for Access to Work, this call is backed up by the Disability Employment Coalition's report Access to Work for Disabled People. This report showed that in 2002-03 expenditure on the scheme was around £44 million, helping a projected 36,006 out of a potential 1.02 million. With a publicity budget of a mere £37,500 a year it is no wonder 74% of employers have never heard of the scheme and the British Chamber or Commerce calls the Access to Work Scheme "One of the Best Kept Secrets of Government."

    —  Allowing employment tribunals to order reinstatement and reengagement in disability discrimination cases would also help increase the number of disabled people in employment. Unlimited compensation is of little use if you will never work again and forcing employers to take back disabled people would reduce the Incapacity Benefit bill.

INVOLVEMENT OF HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS

  GP's potentially have a significant impact on the experience an individual has during the benefit consideration process. For example, the knowledge and understanding a GP has of autism is necessary factor to a successful outcome for an individual with autism. An NAS survey, "GPs on Autism", 2003, found that many GPs were not sufficiently equipped to recognise the diagnostic symbols for autism. 42% of GPs said they did not have sufficient information to make an informed assessment about the likelihood of a patient having autism. This underlines the importance of training not only for GPs but all the professionals involved in the process. Consideration could be given to involving other professionals who do have a close relationship with the individual and who have an understanding of the impact their condition has on their lives.

  In DWP's five year plan it stated that "Health professionals need to start from the point of view that getting people back to work is likely to benefit their long term health." This ambition by DWP actually reinforces the need to take account of the fact that many of the people on incapacity benefit will have a lifelong disability.

JOBCENTRE PLUS RESOURCES

  DEC is concerned that the new system potentially gives huge amounts of power to first level JC+ Staff who have not received adequate disability equality training. Are JC + front line staffs really competent to judge whether someone still undergoing chemotherapy or some other serious illness should be looking for work?

  As an example the NAS recently undertook research into the role of Disability Employment Advisers. This showed while 86% of DEAs replied that they had supported clients diagnosed with an ASD only 33% felt they had sufficient knowledge to support clients with an ASD to find work. The report concluded that DEAs want and need more training about autism if they are to be able to support people with autism to find and retain work. The DWP/JC+ efficiencies agenda is only likely to make the problem worse.

  This is a major area of concern for DEC members. Negative stories about how individuals are treated when in interviews regarding a possible return to work are all too common and have done nothing to improve levels of confidence in the return to work process.

  Care must be taken to ensure adequate resources are provided both through JC+ and any other providers of the service. Processes should be developed that are high on quality and on achieving lasting solutions and care must be taken to ensure short term numerical targets do not drive the reform process.

  Achieving sustainable and long lasting work opportunities are essential merely moving people from benefit into work for a short time only to find themselves unemployed again fairly quickly will solve nothing and in the long term will make our aim of achieving full social and economic inclusion and independence very difficult.

INDIVIDUALLY CENTRED APPROACHES

  DEC also feels that in reforming the Incapacity Benefit process Government needs to invest in the processes and programmes needed to achieve the levels of inclusion we all feel is necessary in a fair and just society.

  This must mean not only providing reasonable and flexible routes to the regular labour market but also through increased training and preparation for work processes and through the expansion of all specialist programmes such as Workstep.

  DEC believes very strongly that a spectrum or continuum of routes/ programmes and/or processes needs to be established which allows a personal development programme to be agreed with every individual who wants to access the world of work.

  DEC does not limit its thinking only to the general labour market and believes that social /supported enterprises will play an important part as well in achieving greater social and economic independence for individuals.

  We urge the Select Committee to particularly call for greater individualisation of routes to work with the individual disabled person at the centre of all actions and policies. Reform will only work effectively if disabled people feel that the system is working for them not against them.

Ray Fletcher OBE

3 October 2005



 
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