Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Disability Employment Coalition after the publication of the Welfare Reform Green Paper

INTRODUCTION

  DEC is chiefly concerned with the opportunities for disabled people in the world of work and whilst we monitor developments in the benefits system to ensure that this does not work against the civil rights of disabled people or more specifically the opportunities to access the world of work, we will mostly leave specialist commentary about proposed benefit changes to other organisations such as the Disability Benefits Consortium.

  Our comments therefore primarily focus on the opportunities for people with disabilities and people with significant illness to access and retain work and employment.

ACCESSIBLE FORMATS

  We have been very disappointed that the "easy read" version of the Green Paper still has not been produced at the date of writing (15 February 2006) some three weeks or so after the publication of the Green Paper in regular format. Braille format has been produced but considerably after the initial publication date.

  True inclusivity can only be achieved if all accessible formats are seen as having equal priority and not an afterthought and we would hope Government truly embraces this concept for all future developments.

EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY

  DEC welcomes the Government's declared commitment to achieve greater equality for disabled people in the world of work as this is entirely in line with our own Statement of Intent published in 2005.

  Some of our members have set their own objectives for achieving equality for disabled people in the world of work and these include international objectives as detailed in as RI's "Included@Work" global campaign.

  In this respect the Government's declared intentions to achieve equality of treatment for people with disabilities and significant illness is not only welcome in the green paper but must be maintained in the eventual White Paper and any ensuing legislation to ensure that this is the overriding objective of all actions taken

SERVICE PROVISION

  DEC does have concerns on practical level about the quality and spread of service provision that support disabled people access the world of work.

  The green paper is short on detail on the ways in which greater access to the world of work will be developed and there is considerable concern that there is sufficient competence and ability amongst people providing services to those individuals who want to work.

  We would expect the Government to set out quality standards for Service Providers which include direct feed back from those individuals who have been provided with services. Quality systems such as the European Quality in Rehabilitation Mark (EQRM) are already in existence and are inclusively orientated to ensure those in receipt of services have a direct say on how they feel the system has worked or is working for them.

  DEC also has concerns that the Green Paper places some emphasis on the future provision of services by commercial and presumably profit making organisations rather than "not for profit" organisations. Any move to promote "for profit" providers into service provision may, we believe, place the emphasis on quantity and not on quality.

  We do not believe that the ability to be innovative belongs only to "for profit" organisations and we would emphasise that most "not for profit" organisations with specialist knowledge areas will provide a greater understanding of the client centred approach needed to achieve sustained success in this area.

  Government should not extend or introduce services in this area without also establishing regular feed back sessions from stakeholder groups and we propose specifically a six monthly review with nominated stakeholders in the field of employment provision and an Annual conference involving Government departments/agencies; service providers and organisations representing service users to review how systems and processes are working and establish a philosophy of continuous improvement.

  It is important that any legislation and/or reform to service provision are inclusive; client centred and includes a requirement for quality standards which reflect an individual's human rights.

SCOPE OF SERVICES

  DEC is worried that the Green Paper starts from a precept that accepts that some people can work and others cannot work.

  We believe that to be a very dangerous assumption and likely to lead to discrimination and exclusion based on traditional preconceptions and in built prejudices.

  All future systems and processes should assume that any person who wants to work can work and that no line is used which creates a "them and us" situation which by its very nature will create barriers to opportunity.

  We are also concerned that there may be still view that the only way to measure whether someone can or cannot work is to apply a model of medical assessments and appraisals. We know from the perspectives of both service users and service providers that the person best placed to know whether or not they can work is the individual themselves.

  The system for accessing the world of work should not seek to tell disabled people they can or cannot experience the independence of the world of work; instead it needs to be designed to accommodate all aspirations toward greater independence.

  This reform process provides a unique opportunity for Government to remove any arbitrary lines and start assuming that every person is capable of becoming involved in the world of work with appropriate support and personal development.

PEOPLE WITH MORE COMPLEX NEEDS

  Many DEC members will have already expressed their concerns that some people have very complex needs which require additional support but never the less want to be included in the world of work just like everyone else.

  We believe that everyone is capable of individual development and that if an individual wants to work society should do all it can to support that individual in achieving their personal objectives.

  We are not convinced currently that the provision of services or the structure of processes such as Pathways to Work are sufficiently robust or flexible enough to support individuals for example with learning disabilities who want to work. Areas such as this need to be addressed otherwise individuals with more complex needs will be pushed to the back of any system and only the easier to place and deal with will receive priority attention.

  These comments apply to all groups where society and employers currently have greater difficulty in understanding and accommodating disability at work.

  It is important that in any long term changes to enable more disabled people to access work Government build in processes that ensure that all groups of people with disabilities have equal opportunities to work and employment and that the system is not slanted or geared only to those who are easier to accommodate.

INVESTMENT IN THE PROCESS OF ACCESSING WORK

  DEC has previously written jointly with the TUC to the Chancellor of the Exchequer calling for any new approach to be properly funded.

  We see the current reform process as a tremendous and perhaps one off opportunity for Government to demonstrate that they are truly investing in the welfare to work philosophy with the aim of achieving social and economic equality for disabled people.

  We strongly believe that this is a win: win opportunity for Government where more people with disabilities and significant illnesses access work and employment with all the social and economic inclusion implications that has whilst at the same time reducing Government long term benefit costs as equality is achieved.

  Government should be realistic in the amount it invests in service provision to ensure that they provide good quality services for all groups of clients. Investment at too low a level or spread too thinly will drive a quantative and not a qualitative service which will in turn lead to the exclusion of many who want to work but who will need more support and advice.

  We also believe that the government is in danger of writing off all other programmes in favour of the Pathways to Work approach. We believe this to be wrong and would urge that existing programmes such as Workstep and Welfare to Work should be retained in a properly co-ordinated approach to accessing the labour market in all its forms. In this respect performance data for Welfare to Work achievements should be published and openly debated before any final conclusions are reached.

  Where Pathways to Work is extended and sits alongside other programmes it is absolutely essential that it is properly invested and resourced.

  DEC particularly believes that the significant expansion of Access to Work is vital in any future developments and we would refer the Committee to the document "Access to Work for disabled people", developed and published by the Coalition in September 2004 which shows that for every £1.00 invested in Access to Work £1.48 is recouped in tax and NI contributions by the Treasury.

  The more investment there is in all the above the quicker the return there will be for Government and the sooner Government will hit its labour Market inclusion targets. In this respect we wonder why it is that Government will wait until 2008 before triggering many of the changes required to achieve full inclusion.

  It is important that Government start from this philosophy of investment in disabled people and achieving equality of opportunities rather than seeing benefits and systems for accessing work merely as "cost" areas.

CHANGES IN THE LABOUR MARKET

  Achieving equality of opportunities for disabled people will require even more changes in society than has so far been achieved.

  DEC acknowledges and welcomes the statistics in the Green paper which show that the number of people with disabilities in work has been increasing in recent years.

  However there is much more to do and a key feature of continued change required to enable full equality of opportunity to be achieved is to achieve changes in the labour market and particularly amongst employers.

  DEC has made it clear that we believe that there should be changes in two specific legislative areas which would assist disabled people and people with significant illnesses to retain employment.

  We believe that Government should act to introduce legislation that requires employers to provide disability or rehabilitation leave when an individual faces significant changes in their life brought about by developing disabilities or significant illness whilst in employment. In doing this Government should emphasise to employers that this is not an additional burden on employers but a sensible mechanism to enable employers to retain employees through proper support processes.

  We also believe that the Employment Tribunals should have the ability to increase penalties on employers who discriminate against employees who become disabled whilst in work. Tribunals should be given stronger powers for reinstatement in these circumstances to counter employers taking easy decisions to avoid making sensible decisions to ensure people who have a disability stay in work.

  Additionally more work needs to be done to educate employers about employing and retaining people with disabilities in work and Government needs to actively and consistently promote the abilities of disabled people in public campaigns through developing provider/employer partnerships but also through the support systems they sponsor or provide.

  More work also needs to be undertaken to highlight to employers how much more they can do particularly in conjunction with the health sector to ensure that individuals who become disabled at work can return to work as quickly as possible. This is a multiple win: win which would positively affect government spending; employer's costs; national productivity and individual satisfaction.

  All of this needs to be considered in the context of changes occurring in the labour market where because of pressures on Pension Schemes and Government Pension provisions people are being expected to work until they are older. This change will introduce disability much more into Companies and organisations as an aging workforce will also mean more people with age related disabilities.

  In pressing forward with the reform process Government needs to actively support processes and legislation which change attitudes in the employer sector particularly highlighting the economic benefit of employing disabled people.

GENERAL COMMENTS REGARDING BENEFIT CHANGES

  As mentioned earlier DEC does not see itself as the main commentator of benefit reform but we feel we cannot provide comments without being critical of the comments about benefit fraud in the Green Paper. We have been entirely consistent in pointing out that the level of benefit fraud by Disabled People on Incapacity Benefit is miniscule and in making a bigger issue of this Government are creating a negative picture amongst employers and the general public who we all wish to educate about the abilities of disabled people. This is neither helpful nor accurate.

  We also have a view that individuals should not be forced in to seeking work. The Pathways to Work pilots haves shown that many disabled people want to get back to, or enter, the world of work without the threat of compulsion hanging over them.

  Government also needs to consider the position of employers in this process as they will not be keen to employ people who are looking for work because they are forced to rather than those who seriously want to work. Compulsion may lead to individuals returning to work grudgingly and in the process staying in work for a limited period and not entering a sustained period of employment.

CONCLUDING COMMENTS

    —    DEC welcomes all processes, systems and philosophies that will enable more people with disabilities and significant illness to access the world of work or who want to stay in work.

    —    We are worried about the quality and prevalence of services which will be provided and we are worried that the involvement of "for profit" organisations may lead to services that are not centred on individuals.

    —    We are keen that Government uses this reform process as an opportunity to seriously invest in all aspects of ensuring disabled people access the world of work or retain employment.

    —    We would want Government to avoid any dogmatic positioning over the type of services provided and instead ensure that all services are geared to each individual's disabilities, circumstances and aspirations.

    —    We are keen that Government establishes ways to work with employers to change attitudes in the Labour market and to support legislative changes which remove barriers to employment for disabled people.

    —    We would not support compulsion in the benefit reform process.

    —    We would expect the process of reform to be primarily based on achieving full equality of opportunity for all disabled people in the world of work.

Ray Fletcher OBE

Chair—Disability Employment Coalition

16 February 2006



 
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