Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by RADAR

RADAR

  1.  RADAR is the leading disability rights campaigning organisation and a network of pan-disability organisations and individuals run by and for disabled people. Our vision is of a society where human difference is routinely anticipated, expertly accommodated and positively celebrated.

  2.  This RADAR position paper has been prepared in advance of the Government's plans for Incapacity Benefit (IB) reform to be published as a Green Paper in Autumn 2005.

DWP FIVE YEAR STRATEGY

  3.  The original proposals for IB reform were detailed in the Department for Work and Pensions five-year strategy. The strategy outlines a system whereby IB is split into two separate benefits: potentially called Rehabilitation Support Allowance and Disability and Sickness Allowance. It is anticipated that the two allowances would be paid at two different rates, a lower rate for the former and a higher rate for the latter. Both would be paid at a higher rate than IB at present.

  4.  Those with "manageable conditions" would be placed on the Rehabilitation Support Allowance, where there would be a focus on being supported into work. There would be a requirement to undertake Work Focused Interviews and work-related activity to prepare for, and move closer to, the labour market. These claimants would receive more than the current long-term rate, but if they refused to engage, they may return to the holding benefit rate.

  5.  Those with the "most severe health conditions or impairments" would be placed on the Disability and Sickness Allowance. This would be paid at a higher rate than the Rehabilitation Support Allowance. There would be some requirement to undertake Work Focused Interviews and encouragement to engage in employment related activity where possible. These claimants would therefore be able to access programmes and incentives to return to work.

  6.  The Personal Capability Assessment would remain the route by which claimants are assessed. However, the five-year strategy explains that it would be coupled with "a fuller assessment of potential future work capacity".

  7.  It is anticipated that implementation of the proposals for new claimants will happen by 2008.

RADAR'S POSITION

Welfare Reform

  8.  RADAR supports reforming the welfare system in such a way that it encourages claimants to be active rather than passive participants. Changing the language from "Incapacity" will also encourage both Personal Advisers and individuals to focus on what claimants can do rather than what they cannot.

Personal Capability Assessment

  9.  It is unclear from the proposals outlined in the five-year strategy how claimants would be placed onto one or other benefit through the Personal Capability Assessment (PCA). Assessment is a complex area that will require clear and detailed exposition in the Green Paper.

  10.  RADAR emphasises that disability does not mean "cannot work". Neither the PCA, the "future work capacity" assessment, nor the two different benefits, should encourage that idea. The PCA should focus on informing the process towards work. Beginning the employment focus at this stage is a crucial step in changing the welfare system to encourage active participation. The "future work capacity" assessment must account for the fact that capacity will change depending on the amount of support received and work-related activity undertaken.

  11.  Currently, certain groups of disabled people are exempt from the PCA based on type of disability. However, people from those groups do work. Further to disability not meaning "cannot work", a reformed welfare system should be focus on individuals' abilities, and not make any assumptions about capability based simply on broad-brush categories of impairment. Therefore, particular disabilities should not automatically qualify for the higher or the lower rate.

  12.  The PCA claim form needs to be revised to enable people with non-visible impairments and mental health conditions to better represent their abilities and needs. The current claim form only has one page related to mental health. Given the steep increase in IB claims due to stress and mental health, this is imperative.

Support

  13.  RADAR is concerned that the Disability and Sickness Allowance will not provide the same level of support for moving into work as the Rehabilitation and Support Allowance. A division into "can work" and "cannot work" on the basis of rate of benefit entitlement is a false division. All those who want to engage in work-related activities and move closer to the labour market should be able to do so. IB claims are densely clustered in disadvantaged areas, where provision tends to be less complete and employment opportunities more scarce. The temptation may be to encourage claimants to move onto Disability and Sickness Allowance in order to counteract a lack of supply, but this would be contrary to the aims of welfare reform. If the demand in a particular area for a certain activity outweighs supply, this must be catered for, ensuring that those on the Disability and Sickness Allowance are not denied support.

  14.  Similarly, the temptation has always been to move those who are already closest to the labour market into employment. This is the most cost effective and quickest way to reduce the claimant count. However, those with more complicated or multiple needs should have the same level, if not greater, support. Just because someone's needs are greater, it does not mean that they have any less desire to enter the labour market, or that they are less capable of undertaking employment.

  15.  If and when the two benefits are created, the Government must focus targets on both those benefits. If the targets focus solely on the Rehabilitation and Support Allowance, the gap between those on the  Disability and Sickness Allowance and attaining employment may be increased, creating a disenfranchised group.

Sanctions

  16.  If those who do not engage in work-related activity are potentially to be sanctioned, such activity must be equally available in all areas. Although robust evaluation of the Pathways to Work pilots is not yet available, the early results are encouraging (up to a 44% off-flow in pilot areas during Phase 1 in December 2003). RADAR instinctively believes that a strong link between the Department of Health and the DWP, promoting work as a therapeutic measure, is the right way forward. Therefore, Pathways to Work, or a similar programme, is integral to the success of IB reform and raising the employment rate of disabled people.

  17.  There should not be any sanctions for those who have undertaken work-related activity, but have not applied for any jobs. The mentioned clustering of IB claimants occurs in disadvantaged areas where jobs are not necessarily easy to come by. In areas where there is a large amount of competition for scarce jobs, those who are already disadvantaged in the labour market cannot be penalised. There may also be issues of confidence or self-esteem that need to be overcome before somebody feels able to apply for employment. The emphasis must be on assistance, not compulsion.

Age

  18.  The reforms must account for the fact that the prevalence of disability increases with age. The labour market discriminates against both disabled people and older people. Whilst RADAR welcomes the focus on disability rights and age discrimination legislation, any reform of IB needs to recognise the difficulties associated with entering the labour market as an older disabled person. Older people may not be as willing to undertake work-related activities if they have had bad experiences of employment in the past. Therefore, any sanctions regime must relate positively to the employment position of older disabled people. A welfare system truly fit for the 21st century must remove the benefit straps and pitfalls of the current system.

Rates

  19.  RADAR supports the proposals of raising benefit rates, as benefits must reflect the true cost of living for disabled people. However, simultaneously paying higher rates and focusing on work-related activity may represent a paradox, as a higher benefit rate increases the benefit trap. To counter this effect, there should be a sliding scale of benefit payment, means-tested by salary, after people have moved into work. The better-off in work calculations currently carried out at Jobcentre Plus would allow this to be implemented.

Working Hours

  20.  Currently, IB does not allow claimants to work between five and 16 hours a week, and therefore discriminates against those who are able to work more than half a day a week, but less than part-time. It is also a disincentive to those who want to move into work gradually or who are unlikely to ever be able to work more than 16 hours a week due to the nature of their impairment. It limits the ability of claimants to build and maintain work skills and experience essential to gaining longer and more permanent employment. This needs to be eliminated. A sliding scale of payment should aim to achieve this.

The Bigger Picture

  21.  The reform proposals are backed up by proposals to engage employers in the health, safety, rehabilitation and retention of employees; involving GPs and the NHS in the process of rehabilitation, recognising that work is a route back to health; improving disability rights and the rights of older people; piloting individual budgets for disabled people to encourage independence; and rolling out Pathways to Work. All of these strands are equally important in getting disabled people into employment, and must be pursued with equal vigour.

IN CONCLUSION

  22.  RADAR strongly supports the Government's joint targets of creating a welfare system fit for the 21st century, and raising the employment rate to 80%. In order to fulfil the latter, it is imperative that the former is achieved.

  23.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reform the welfare system. The concept of "cannot work" must be swept away. The focus must be on active and not passive participation. It is right that benefit rates, especially for those with greater needs, reflect the true cost of living, but that should not mean that people are consigned to a benefit without support or one that labels them as "cannot work". The concept that disabled people cannot work is rejected in almost every other policy area.

  24.  RADAR believes that the reformed benefit, and the associated support, should be available to all those currently on IB. By only making the new benefit and support available to future claimants, there is the risk of creating a further tier in the Incapacity Benefit system, whereby existing claimants may lose out on assistance as a result of the change.

  25.  To further avoid a tiered welfare system, RADAR believes that the five to 16 hour issue must be eradicated, and a sliding scale of support once a former claimant is in work must be arranged.

  26.  Concurrent with IB reform, RADAR supports the campaign to raise Disability Living Allowance to represent the true cost of living for disabled people.

  27.  RADAR would also support any campaign for the introduction of Statutory Disability Leave. Not only is the low employment rate of disabled people a symptom of the current IB system consigning people to a life of "cannot work", it is also a reflection of the poor retention rates of those employees who become disabled whilst in work.

  28.  Dividing IB into two different benefits risks a lack of ability to move between the two. RADAR would support the introduction of a single benefit, with two separate strands, increasing the ability of people to move from one to the other, encouraging a more evident path towards employment.

Bethan Collins

29 September 2005



 
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