Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Robin Stevens

1.  INTRODUCTION

  David Blunkett's resignation in October, 2005 coincided with an interesting time in my own life. After a decade living on benefits because of illness, I had been feeling in rather better health this summer, and decided to test out my fitness for work by seeking a Work Placement. A suitable placement proved difficult to find, but come September I embarked upon an enjoyable five weeks working as a bag-packer at Tesco's. Three weeks into this placement I heard the result of the Personal Capability Assessment I had undergone back in August. I was declared fit for work. This decision was ultimately reversed, but in the meantime I experienced emotional turmoil, and faced the imminent prospect of falling into debt. I was very unhappy about the way the benefits system seemed to be putting me under needless pressure, particularly given that, on my own initiative, I was already taking steps to try to get back into part-time employment.

  Blunkett's resignation, my own testing time, and the knowledge that the Government was undertaking a radical overhaul of Incapacity Benefit, combined to instil a desire to contribute personally to the Incapacity Benefit debate. There is a vast reservoir of untapped potential and under-used ability among the long-term sick and unemployed in this country. My hope is that this paper can help create a welfare system, a business culture, and a national mindset which enable those of us on Incapacity Benefit to engage more fully with wider society, enriching everyone with our talents, our gifts, and our warm humanity.

2.  DIFFICULTIES WITH THE PRESENT SYSTEM

2.1  Those on incapacity benefit are not a homogeneous group

  According to the most recent survey by the Department of Work and Pensions (May 2005), there are 2,648,700 people on Incapacity Benefit, 2,425,400 of whom have been receiving Incapacity Benefit for more than six months. A proportion of this multitude are, beyond dispute, physically and/or mentally incapable of work. At the other extreme, some benefit recipients are perfectly capable of working in full-time employment in a wide variety of jobs, but are knowingly abusing the social security system by refusing to work, and pretending to be ill or disabled. Between these extremes are people who, whilst definitely not fully fit, would be able (and often willing) to accept certain types of employment, under certain conditions, for a limited number of hours per week.

2.2  History

  I applaud the present Government's desire to help, encourage and enable everyone who can work to get off Incapacity Benefit and back into work. This Government's task is made harder because in the 1980s, at a time of high unemployment, the then Government directed many relatively healthy people to accept Incapacity Benefit simply to massage the worryingly high unemployment figures; this quirk of history contributes to the present situation where many who should never have been receiving Incapacity Benefit in the first place are, a decade or so later, still not in paid employment.

2.3  Incapacity benefit is a difficult benefit to move on from

  As my opening statistics demonstrate, very many people find it hard getting back into work once they start receiving Incapacity Benefit. There are several reasons for this. The old adage, "It's easier to find a job when you're in a job", still holds good. Additionally, many are caught in a nasty vicious cycle: initially they stop work because they are ill; then, if they do not recover from their illness and find another job reasonably quickly, their health declines further because of the mental, psychological and emotional effects of not working; their self-esteem plummets, the disciplines of a regular job become a distant memory, they consequently become ever less employable, and Incapacity Benefit becomes a way of life, part of who they are.

2.4  The long-term ill have difficulty knowing their capabilities and limitations

  Most people who have been out of work for more than a couple of weeks, let alone several months or even years, start to lose confidence in their innate abilities. Many of their skills are not being used, and they miss the affirmation of their competencies, the validation of their worth as individuals, and the sheer camaraderie that abounds in a well-functioning workplace. Being ill and unemployed for any length of time is challenging indeed!

  Even those whose self-confidence remains high are likely to have genuine doubts about their ability to cope with work. When one has not been tried and tested at work for a long time, one fears one might be found wanting on returning to work. After a protracted illness, how can one possibly know what kind of work, and how much work, one is capable of, except by giving it a try—and risking letting one's colleagues down and being personally humiliated if things do not work out? At a job interview, when asked, "Are you confident you are now well enough to do this job?", a truthful response will often be, "Well, I'm not sure!" How many employers are willing to take on an employee knowing there are likely to be major uncertainties about that person's health?

2.5  Inadequate publicity keeps needy people unaware of help already on offer

  At present there are some schemes in place aimed at helping those on long-term incapacity benefit to test out their capabilities, with a view to returning to paid employment where possible. For example, I have just completed a Work Placement of five weeks' duration. Despite at times feeling tied in knots by red tape, I found my Work Placement was, on balance, a very positive experience: whilst not getting paid, I kept my benefits, and worked for a local firm for a very limited number of hours a week, gradually building up my hours to a realistic maximum (given my health condition) of 15 hours a week. The staff at the firm knew that I was "testing the water" because of personal health issues, and so I was not put under too much pressure too soon; the firm had a willing pair of hands for free for several weeks; and the Government had the gratifying prospect that I might, given time, work my way out of being dependent upon state benefits. Truly this was a winning arrangement for all sides! How sad, though, that I had been on benefits for a decade before I ever heard of the Work Placement Scheme (or anything similar), and that I eventually found out about it, not through the benefit agencies, but through a friend involved in a similar scheme 100 miles away! Only through this same friend did I also become aware that there would be a Disability Employment Adviser in my local Job Centre (as in every Job Centre) ready, willing and eager to help me as I hesitantly explored the possibility of returning to paid employment.

2.6  The existing personal capability assessment is deeply flawed

  In an imperfect world where not everybody is scrupulously honest, some people will always try to take advantage of the benefits system in a dishonest way. A "fit for work" test is therefore required, to discriminate between genuinely ill people and malingerers. Unfortunately the present Personal Capability Assessment has a rigid, all-or-nothing character; one is either declared incapable of doing any paid work at all, or, without qualification or reservation, declared fit for work, whatever one's ongoing medical problems. This declaration is primarily made on the basis of a question-and-answer session with a doctor who is usually a complete stranger. Many ill people find the prospect of a medical examination-cum-questionnaire of this nature intimidating or even frightening, because one is seemingly so much in the power of a single individual who may have little or no understanding or clinical experience of one's own condition.

  Simply awaiting a Personal Capability Assessment can be traumatic to some, and the resultant stress and anxiety detrimental to their health. The financial implications of failing the Personal Capability Assessment—in my case, living off £56.20 per week rather than £80.00 (and living off nothing at all when I was abroad for a week on a pre-booked holiday)—are not made clear in advance, and this can lead to sudden, unforeseen financial hardship and debt. Neither is it made clear in advance that going on Job-Seekers' Allowance (the only alternative to appealing against an unfavourable Personal Capability Assessment ruling) does not mean one is required to seek full-time employment. My local Job Centre staff showed considerable sensitivity and realism in devising, in conjunction with myself, a suitable level of work for me to look for whilst I was mistakenly placed on Job Seeker's Allowance—but if this procedure had been carefully explained to me beforehand I would have been rather more relaxed about undergoing a Personal Capability Assessment!

  Some (sadly, not all) examining doctors display human warmth, understanding, compassion and equity. Appeals, however, can be particularly difficult. My own appeal six years ago against a Personal Capability Assessment which deemed me fit to work remains one of the most trying experiences of my adult life—notwithstanding the fact that I won! Additionally, some medical conditions simply don't fit the Personal Capability Assessment; I suffer from ME (Post-Viral Fatigue), an illness which drastically affects my mental and physical stamina (as well as my emotional stability), yet I am deemed fit for work by the Assessment because the questionnaire (and maybe the questioner, too) is not equipped to cope with ME.

  A further problem with the Personal Capability Assessment as presently applied is that disreputable people in rude health with no inclination to find gainful employment can be deemed unfit for work simply because they know exactly the words to say when examined by a doctor. I appreciate the Government's (and examining doctors') dilemma here; it must be extremely difficult to devise a method of assessing people who claim they cannot work, which exposes fraudulent deceivers without penalising those who are genuinely unwell.

2.7  Health and sickness are not absolutes

  Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people of working age in Britain today are far from fully well, but are nevertheless capable of doing something useful and productive with their lives (whether through paid employment or by other means). Current Government thinking and practice seems trapped in absolutism, regarding people as fully well or incapable of doing anything: consequently there exists an enormous "under-used army of the willing", comprised of sincere folk who would welcome paid employment on a part-time basis (in fields which are realistic, given their limited health and energy levels), but who fear a system which apparently wants to bully, rush, or pressurise them into full-time, unsuitable work which they know they cannot cope with.

2.8  Busy GPs sometimes too readily keep declaring their patients unfit for work

  In any fair assessment of the capacity for work of a person receiving Incapacity Benefit, the benefit recipient's own GP clearly needs to be consulted, and his or her views taken seriously. That said, there is undeniably a widespread culture of harassed, over-worked GPs habitually "signing off" patients who have been out of work through illness for a long time, without sufficient consideration by the GP as to whether particular patients are indeed completely incapable of paid employment or not. The health, well-being and self-esteem of some patients would certainly be improved if they undertook a suitable Work Placement Scheme (or something similarly pro-active and exploratory), yet the awareness of potentially helpful options can inadvertently be kept from patients by a doctor who lacks the time, the knowledge, and/or the training to explain them properly. There are difficult issues of trust and confidentiality involved here, but that is no excuse for ducking the issue; GPs do, sometimes, play a part in keeping patients on Incapacity Benefit long after they should be seeking paid employment, and some changes in surgery procedure are therefore required.

2.9  Existing organisations which help people back into work are of variable quality

  Helping sick people return to work is a delicate art, requiring both an understanding of the world of work, and pastoral insight into the issues facing those who have been long-term ill and unemployed. There is some excellent work going on in this field, nation-wide, done by compassionate, deeply committed individuals and organisations. Sadly, there are lazy, negligent individuals and organisations in this field too, making a fast buck by exploiting very vulnerable people. Our society owes it to those ill people who are courageously battling to live a decent, useful life, to give them the highest possible standard of help and care. The relevant helping and caring organisations therefore need to be inspected regularly by trained Government inspectors.

2.10  Job centre staff often feel unheard and unappreciated

  Job Centre staff do a tough, often thankless job in an environment that can be emotionally highly charged. On a daily basis they have first-hand contact with Incapacity Benefit recipients, and will be well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the present benefits system. Some of the staff will have clear, definite, and workable ideas about improving Incapacity Benefit, yet these dedicated public servants rarely feel genuinely consulted: Government policy can be too readily imposed from above by politicians and high-ranking civil servants with little or no experience of the day-to-day realities of working with the long-term sick and unemployed. Such an approach (effected by successive Governments of both main parties, to be fair) has understandably bred resentment among Job Centre staff in the past. It is short-sighted indeed to leave the devising of policy to a handful of top politicians and civil servants, however able they may be; no one group of people has a monopoly on good ideas. Much better policy would emerge if the Government could value and utilise the intelligence of the whole civil service, listening to, and learning from, the views of those working at the coal-face, in a spirit of humility and co-operation rather than condescension and imposition.

3.  FINDING A WAY FORWARD

3.1  Create a culture of respectful dialogue with incapacity benefit recipients

  Medical services and benefit and employment agencies need to engage in respectful, face to face dialogue with ill people about the work opportunities that may be open to them. Many ill people would like to work: we hate the isolation, the lack of structure, and the sense of disengagement with life, that so often accompany being out of paid employment for an extended period of time, and we long to make a meaningful contribution to society; we want to feel that we belong, that we matter, that we are valued individuals enjoying an interdependent relationship with our able-bodied peers, rather than passive, inactive, useless drains on the wider community.

  How can this dialogue be achieved? A multi-faceted approach would seem most apposite. Firstly, extend the laudable pilot scheme where trained advisers and counsellors are being placed in GP surgeries to talk and listen to those on Incapacity Benefit and to gently explore with them ways back into work. Consider extending the scheme to public libraries, shopping malls, pedestrian precincts, and so on, but make surgeries the priority.

  Secondly, arrange regular interviews with long-term Incapacity Benefit recipients—say, once every three or four months—to discuss with them their experience of life on benefit; to help them make the most of their taxing life circumstances; and to offer information, advice, and avenues to investigate which could lead to voluntary work or paid employment. Since I have discovered her existence (!), I have appreciated having a local Disability Employment Adviser who has been a familiar face in the Job Centre and a familiar voice over the phone; a constant, caring human presence as I have endeavoured in recent months to get back into work. Having an ongoing relationship with an encouraging, informed, individual whom one trusts, and with whom one feels comfortable and relaxed, would be a great help to many if not most people seeking to move on from Incapacity Benefit; whether that individual is a Disability Employment Adviser, a professional adviser, or a dedicated and well-trained volunteer, is a secondary consideration; the point is, help needs to be on offer, clients need to know where to find it, and we need regularly to listen and talk to Incapacity Benefit recipients in person, rather than leaving them in un-splendid isolation. We must not neglect the human and relational dimensions to issues surrounding Incapacity Benefit: if benefit recipients feel heard, cared for and supported, they are far more likely to take a positive, pro-active approach to life.

  The two suggestions above, if implemented, would require a considerable investment in human resources. Their implementation would, however, offer real hope and assistance for many who are presently trapped in a lifestyle of dependency, offering them realistic and workable pathways back into at least part-time paid employment.

3.2  Promote part-time work as a realistic option for incapacity benefit recipients

  There needs to be a much more widespread understanding that health and fitness for work are relative concepts, not clear-cut issues, for hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people in Britain today. Many of us presently on Incapacity Benefit could not cope with the demands of full-time employment; however, in a climate of genuine helpfulness and concern, we would greatly appreciate being given the chance to explore limited part-time work with a sympathetic, well-informed employer.

  David Blunkett has said, "Work is good for you": I wholeheartedly agree, but for ill and disabled people it must be work that is within our capabilities. This will often mean part-time work in non-pressured settings, where we may not be earning enough to support ourselves, let alone our families: we will still, however, be doing something useful and worthwhile, and perhaps also be making a limited financial contribution. Furthermore, our physical, mental and emotional health may well improve because, through our work, we are daily relating to our peers rather than feeling alienated from them. Most people who experience unemployment or long-term illness for the first time are shocked to discover the extent to which the quality and quantity of their social interaction (and, consequently, their sense of well-being) is dependent upon having a decent job.

3.3  Develop, extend and widely publicise the work placement scheme

  For ill and disabled people who genuinely wish to re-engage with the world of work, projects like the Work Placement Scheme need to be far more widely publicised, not just through literature but also in one-to-one interviews with specially trained civil servants and even volunteer counsellors or advisers. Clients on Work Placement Schemes keep all their benefits whilst working for several weeks, without pay, for a sensible and realistic number of hours a week, in a firm or organisation found for them by the benefits agency. This is an excellent way for people who have been long-term ill to test out their boundaries in terms of physical energy, concentration, mental stamina, and their ability to cope with stress. Additionally, the firm or organisation gains a good reputation for giving a helpful hand (and a potentially life-changing experience) to those struggling with health issues, and has a month or so to assess, through performance rather than interview, the attitudes and aptitudes of potential employees. Simultaneously, people on Work Placements do not feel under the same pressure as new, paid employees: where the Scheme is being properly implemented, there will be a clear understanding between the firm and the client that allowances may need to be made for health factors; then, if the client is not coping with existing work demands (or alternatively, is not feeling sufficiently stretched), these demands can be amicably discussed with the work supervisor without any sense of reprimand or failure, and where necessary adjusted.

  Successfully completing a Work Placement builds confidence in the client; it may lead to paid employment where the Work Placement took place, but even when this does not happen the client has shown to potential employers (and perhaps more importantly, to him or herself), something of what he or she is capable of, and also where his or her limits may lie; he or she has experienced first-hand the satisfaction of work well done, and in some cases broken out of a destructive lifestyle of boredom, isolation and inactivity (many on Incapacity Benefit are far from bored isolated or inactive, of course!); on the back of a good reference from his or her Placement boss, he or she is then in a far stronger position if applying for paid employment in the future.

  Given the above, it surely makes excellent sense to develop, extend and publicise the Work Placement Scheme. Everybody on Incapacity Benefit needs to know about it, and there needs to be a place on a Work Placement Scheme for all who want one—and the opportunity to go on a second and even third placement if the client considers it worthwhile. To this end, firms, businesses and public service organisations need to be lobbied and persuaded into taking on Work Placement Scheme clients. It is in their own interests to do so on at least two counts; they are spared a chancy interview process if they subsequently decide to offer the client paid employment (since they know him or her well already), and they have the public relations coup of being seen as a caring, socially-involved, Work-Placement-Scheme-friendly outfit.

  Extending the Work Placement Scheme will of course require further investment, but this will be repaid several times over if even a quarter of Work Placement Scheme clients find it is a springboard to paid employment. In sheer economic terms, this idea is one that can deliver—Treasury officials please note!

3.4  Offer financial incentives for firms to employ incapacity benefit recipients

  Offering financial incentives to firms and organisations if they agree to employ long-term Incapacity Benefit recipients might be deemed discriminatory against job-applicants who are not on Incapacity Benefit: nevertheless, given the immense number of people who seem unable to move off Incapacity Benefit, surely it is an idea worth sober consideration? Firms may understandably regard offering jobs to applicants who have been long-term ill and unemployed as risky, if not unwise; realistically, the drop-out rate in the first few weeks of employment for such candidates will be higher than the average, and potential employers' fears and misgivings need to be taken seriously. On the other hand, people who have been without a job for years (literally!) and who return fresh to the workplace will often be more enthusiastic and hard-working, less jaded and cynical, than longer-term employees who might take having a stable job for granted.

  Firms will surely take a job application from an Incapacity Benefit recipient more seriously if it comes from someone who has glowing references from a couple of successfully completed Work Placements, and who is being supported by a Government which offers to pay, say, 20 or 30% of the applicant's salary for their first three months back at work. Yes, there need to be safeguards built in so that unscrupulous employers do not enjoy three months' cheap labour and then sack people on spurious grounds, but I am confident there are able minds in the Department of Work and Pensions who can devise such safeguards and make them workable.

3.5  The 10-hour week

  Gordon Brown's latest document on business practice argues convincingly that the 21st Century will be the Century of Creativity; in order to compete with the upcoming economic powers of China and India, British industry and commerce will need to lead the world in innovation, imagination and invention. Now, given the choice of employing one person for 40 hours or four people for 10 hours per week, which option is likely to be the more dynamically creative?

  I believe we need to foster a working culture in which it is seen not only as acceptable but as highly desirable for a significant proportion of the workforce to work for as little as 10 hours each week. The advantage of such a culture for business would be the presence of high-impact, part-time workers who would be likely to punch well above their weight in terms of productivity and new ideas. For people presently on Incapacity Benefit, such a culture would give wonderful opportunities to rejoin the workforce and make a worthwhile contribution to a firm or organisation. Our present obsession with the 40-hour week robs many workplaces of valuable input from partially-disabled or ill people, who themselves often feel unfairly excluded from the workplace by the all-or-nothing, full-time or no-time mentality of many employers.

  An important aspect of the creation of a "10-hour week" culture would be providing opportunities for people on Incapacity Benefit to advertise, without charge, their availability for specific types of part-time employment. The Government already finances a job-seekers' site (www.jobsearch.gov.uk) which is locale-specific. As well as encouraging employers to advertise for "10-hour week" posts on this site (at present virtually all the posts advertised are at least 20 hours per week), why not have a sister site where Incapacity Benefit recipients could declare themselves available for part-time work, and could submit a potted Curriculum Vitae and a description of the type of work they would be looking for? Instead of the present emphasis on job-hunters fitting in completely (or not at all) with employers' requirements, this proposed site would give employers the chance to take an imaginative leap and to offer work on a very part-time basis for talented individuals who may have much to give, and be experienced and well-qualified, but who because of health concerns could not cope with the demands of even a 20-hour working week.

4.  CONCLUSION

  Those of us who are long-term ill, and consequently long-term unemployed, often live stressful and difficult lives. We live in a society where, perhaps wrongly, our worth and status are often determined by the nature of our employment and the size of our pay-packet. In such a society, those who cannot hold down a full-time job are in a vulnerable position. Worldly status apart, a decent income opens up a lifestyle that is potentially more interesting and stimulating: money cannot buy happiness, and the best things in life really are free, but having a moderate amount of money at our disposal can make life that bit less of a struggle. Furthermore, without a job we can quickly become isolated, and therefore at risk mentally and emotionally, physically and spiritually. A job gives life shape, structure, and a reason to get up in the morning. Work at its best gives a profound sense of achievement and personal fulfilment, and without it we often find that our most precious relationships are stretched to breaking-point. Many, probably most long-term recipients of Incapacity Benefit go through times of desperation, depression and despair.

  Bearing all the above in mind, both Non-Government Organisations and the Government itself need to approach those on Incapacity Benefit with understanding and sensitivity, gentleness and respect. Of course some people on benefit are "swinging it", and the exploitative practices of such people need to be brought to an end—no easy task, as we have seen. But many other benefit recipients are doing their level best to make the most of their lives in circumstances which would cause weaker personalities to give up completely. This latter, praiseworthy group can feel deeply upset and even crushed when anonymously informed, via a duplicated letter from the Job Centre, that their weekly benefits have been cut by 30%, that they are fit for work, and that they must immediately begin seeking it. Far better, surely, to have a constructive, on-going dialogue with long-term recipients of Incapacity Benefit, helping and encouraging them all we can. We might enable them to rejoin the workforce (in however limited a capacity). However, where paid employment is unrealistic because of health issues, we can still assist benefit recipients to live as rich and purposeful a life as possible, within the restraints of their medical condition. I outline below specific ways in which these two goals might be realised.

5.  RECOMMENDATIONS IN BIEF

  5.1  The 10-hour week. Change existing employment regulations so that it is as easy, convenient and economically viable to employ four people for 10 hours per week (or three people working 13 hours, or two people working 20 hours) as it is to employ one person working 40 hours per week.

  5.2  Create financial incentives for firms and organisations to take on employees who have been long-term Incapacity Benefit recipients; for example, the Government could pay 30% of such employees' wages for their first three months back at work (whether as full- or part-time employees).

  5.3  Facilitate the emergence of a business culture where employees who work for between 10 and 15 hours per week are seen as great assets, likely to bring new ideas and perspectives, enthusiasm and energy, to the workplace out of all proportion to the hours they actually work.

  5.4  Overhaul the Personal Capability Assessment. In addition to the existing categories of "fit for work" and "unfit for work", add a third, "recommended for future options guidance" (or some less clumsy phrase!). People deemed to belong to this third category may be capable of limited work, though they will not enjoy full health; immediately on receipt of their Personal Capability Assessment ruling, they will have an interview with their Disability Employment Adviser, who will suggest possible avenues of enquiry regarding Work Placement Schemes, part-time employment and voluntary work.

  5.5  Produce a booklet, "Living A Full Life On Incapacity Benefit", containing proactive lifestyle suggestions for the long-term ill, and also extensive information about how to explore possible pathways back into work.

  5.6  Greatly extend and develop the Work Placement Scheme. Make two or three Work Placement Schemes the right of everyone who has been on Incapacity Benefit for over six months.

  5.7  Have a major recruitment drive to find businesses and organisations willing to find places for clients on Work Placement Schemes and/or full- or part-time work for employees who have been long-term recipients of Incapacity Benefit.

  5.8 Widely and energetically publicise the Work Placement Scheme and other part- and full-time "back to work" initiatives, through a booklet; by commissioning television and radio programmes (featuring celebrities who have returned to work after long-term illness); via the internet; using billboards; and through Disability Employment Advisers, and trained counsellors and advisers.

  5.9  Arrange regular (perhaps four times yearly), mandatory interviews for Incapacity Benefit recipients with their Disability Employment Adviser and/or a volunteer counsellor (see below). Be willing to meet people in their own homes, if clients would prefer this. Make every effort to inform Incapacity Benefit recipients of the help available to them, and the options open to them.

  5.10  Train a large number of counsellors-cum-advisers, whose specific role would be to help those on Incapacity Benefit to live as full a life as possible: this would include employment guidance where the health of the client suggested it might be appropriate. These counsellors/advisers could be a combination of professionals and volunteers; they could be recruited (for example) from among faith groups, people who have taken early retirement, and those who have already successfully fought their way back into the workforce after long-term illness.

  5.11  Have a counsellor working in every doctors' surgery in the country, perhaps chatting informally with Incapacity Benefit recipients in the waiting-room, but definitely on hand for referrals from surgery GPs of patients who have been out of work long-term, and who, in the opinion of their doctor, would benefit from lifestyle advice, a friendly listening ear, and guidance about Work Placement Schemes or other pathways into full- or part-time employment or voluntary work.

  5.12  Have regular inspections of all organisations employed to help people who have been long-term ill to get back into work.

  5.13  Send Government ministers and top civil servants involved in the current reshaping of Incapacity Benefit policy into Job Centres to seek wisdom and advice from experienced Job Centre staff about changes that need to be made to current Incapacity Benefit legislation and practice. Do not consult through written questionnaires alone.

  5.14  Allow any Job Centre employee a day off to put his or her thoughts on paper if they feel they have a significant contribution to make to the Incapacity Benefit consultation.

  5.15  Ask for opinions from all civil servants working in the benefits field, both senior and junior, before a Green Paper is produced, rather than determining the overall direction of the debate and then asking for input within carefully-prescribed parameters.

  5.16  Send the Government ministers and civil servants who shape benefits policy into the homes of long-term recipients of Incapacity Benefit, and clients on Work Placement Schemes, and employees who have successfully returned to the workforce after a long period on Incapacity Benefit, to listen and to learn.

  5.17  Let it be widely known, as soon as possible, that the Department of Work and Pensions would very much appreciate thoughtful contributions to the Incapacity Benefit debate from all interested members of the public.

  5.18  Encourage employers to advertise in newspapers and on the jobsearch.gov.uk website for "10 hours a week" posts.

  5.19  Create a sister-site to jobsearch.gov.uk where Incapacity Benefit recipients can offer themselves to potential employers for "10 hours a week" posts, specifying the type of work they are looking for, and submitting brief Curriculum Vitae.

Robin Stevens

23 January 2006



 
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