Memorandum submitted by SCOPE after the
publication of the Welfare Reform Green Paper
Scope's mission is to drive the change that
makes our society the first where disabled people achieve equality.
"Independent living" is what non-disabled
people take for granted: living your own life, deciding what you
want to do and making it happen.
This is not a reality for many disabled people.
Instead, disablism, the presumption that disabled people are inferior,
and the attitudes that sustain and underpin this presumption,
deny disabled people the opportunity to show what they can contribute
Incapacity Benefit is just one factor in the
right of disabled people to equality, economic security and to
protection from poverty. So any lasting solution to tackling benefits
must ultimately be holistic and systemic, in accordance with the
"Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People" paper.
Many disabling barriers that face disabled people need to be tackled
to enable their economic and community participation.
We need to move towards building a system that
values the contribution that all disabled people can make, whether
in work or as citizens in the community, and enables them to maximise
that contribution; that fundamentally alters the balance of risk
and reward that face disabled people when they decide whether
to work, or how to play a role as active citizens.
All disabled people should have adequate recompense
for the extra costs of disability, without means testing and whatever
the perceived level of impairment, whether or not they are in
Any reform needs to be much more flexible than
the existing system, which treats IB claimants as essentially
similar. Equally a simplistic work/can't work division is unfair,
wasteful, disempowering and demoralising to all claimants.
Disabled people must play an active and leading
role in the debate on IB reform if it is to succeedwe hope
this submission both makes it clear why this is essential, and
encourages this to happen.
SCOPE welcomes the Green Paper and shares the
government's view that incapacity benefits are in need of reform.
However, SCOPE also believes that there is room for improvement
in the current proposals.
Immediately prior to the release of the Green
Paper, SCOPE published its own paper on the reform of Incapacity
During the coming weeks, SCOPE will be aiming to engage DWP and
the Treasury in a constructive dialogue with a view to securing
"Incapacity Benefit" sends the wrong
signals. It implies that the men and women who claim this benefit
are "incapable" of work. For the majority, this is simply
Too many people are written off
Incapacity benefits are too often a one-way
ticket. Men and women slip on to them in response to specific
circumstancesillness or perhaps job lossbut they
do not necessarily move off again as circumstances change for
the better. Nor do they maintain any contact with the employment
services, who might be able to route them towards rehabilitation,
retraining or job opportunities.
IB payments are surprisingly miserly
No-one grows rich on incapacity benefits. In
fact, anyone relying on IB alone would struggle to make ends meet.
The present government's aim has always been "work for those
who can, security for those who can't". It is questionable
whether current benefits actually deliver on the second part of
For some at least, IB does provide stability and
Incapacity Benefit provides a stable income
for large numbers of non-employed adults. For men and women who
would normally have difficulty in finding suitable employment
because of ill health or impairment, or because of additional
factors such as age, poor qualifications or location, this aspect
of IB is invaluable.
IB shelters hundreds of thousands from the worst
effects of job destruction
Incapacity claimants are disproportionately
concentrated in the older industrial areas of the North, Scotland
and Wales. This fundamental point tends to get overlooked. What
has happened is that in areas where the local labour market is
difficult, one of the main groups losing out in the competition
for jobs are men and women with health problems or impairments.
On incapacity benefits, most people are financially better off
than on Jobseeker's Allowance.
IB can provide the vital bridge to a state pension
For many older claimants, incapacity benefits
provide the essential support between the effective end of their
working lives and receipt of state pension. This group embraces
many who feel that a meaningful role for them in the labour market
has disappeared and for whom ill health or impairment reduce the
prospect of returning.
Fair and effective reform needs to bring together
The first is the government's aspiration to bring
IB numbers down. This is reasonable at many levels. It is in line
with the aspiration of a substantial proportion of claimants to
return to work. However, headline numbers should not be the sole
yardstick by which reform is judged.
The second is the need to respect the legitimate
concern of claimants to avoid being victimised. In theory it is
not the government's intention to hound or impoverish anyone with
sickness or impairment. On the other hand, the introduction of
greater conditionality is sure to arouse fears.
The third is the local and regional dimension.
The Incapacity Benefit problem and the UK regional problem are
two sides of the same coin. 62 local authority districts across
Britain have an IB claimant rate in excess of 10 per cent of the
working age population, but not one of these districts is in the
South East, Eastern or South West regions or in London. In many
parts of the country there is little to be gained by pitch forking
large numbers out into the labour market and expecting them to
Several aspects of the government's proposals
The aspiration to reduce IB numbers by one million
within 10 years is consistent with the evidence on the share of
IB claimants who say they would like to work. Nevertheless, that
would still leave incapacity numbers far above their 1979 level
and it remains true that with the right attitude among employers
and with appropriate practical help, even many of the men and
women with more complex impairments are able to engage in employment.
The intention not to extend means testing is
welcome. This had been a widespread fear and we trust that the
government will not now re-open this issue.
The proposal to introduce the benefit changes
gradually, via new claimants, is pragmatic. This poses no threat
to the entitlements of existing claimants, some of whom have been
in receipt of IB for a very long time and have adjusted their
There are other parts of the package that seem
sensiblethe intention to complete Personal Capability Assessment
within 12 weeks, for example. The real issue here is about the
operational capability to deliver within this timescale.
There are greater doubts about the division
of the new Employment and Support Allowance into two. In practice
it is not easy to distinguish between claimants who might be encouraged
to return to work and others whose degree of ill health or impairment
ought to rule this out. The results of Personal Capability Assessments
are often already contested, and on appeal overturned. The introduction
of a second and higher hurdle could add a further layer of dispute.
The requirement on most new claimants to prepare
for work is the most innovative part of the package. What is certainly
true is that claimants will not find work unless they first look
for work, and this in turn often requires rehabilitation, re-training
and re-motivation of the kind now proposed by the government.
The difficult issue is the extent of compulsion.
Overall, the government's current proposals
fall some way short of a wholly satisfactory package:
Too much faith is placed in
the ability of the labour market to absorb large numbers of incapacity
No account is taken of the huge
variation in conditions around the country.
The assumption that Jobcentre
Plus can deliver the quality and quantity of services needed to
re-engage claimants is questionable.
Insufficient attention is given
to the obstacles in the benefits system that deter claimants from
looking for work.
Applying the requirement to
prepare for work to everyone on the lower level of the new benefit
takes no account of personal circumstances, work history or location.
SCOPE has so far identified four areas in which
it would wish to see modifications to the current proposals.
1. No Compulsion for those approaching pension
The government proposes that everyone on the
lower level of the new benefit would be required to prepare for
work. The compulsion would be backed by financial sanctions.SCOPE
takes the view that men and women approaching state pension age
should be exempt from this compulsory requirement. Their engagement
in return-to-work activity should be voluntary.
The arguments for this exemption are that:
Many older workers in declining
health will deeply resent the notion that after long and often
arduous working lives they should once more be forced to contemplate
a return to the labour market.
Targeting the time and resources
of the employment services at older workers who resent intervention
is not an efficient use of public money.
Claimants approaching pension
age are especially numerous in the older industrial areas of the
North, where there is likely to be the greatest difficulty in
absorbing large numbers back into work.
Older workers can and do make a substantial
contribution to the economy. Where those on benefits can be re-incorporated
back into the labour market this should be welcomed, but pragmatism
and sensitivity is needed as well.
2. A Time Limit on the Requirement to prepare
The proposals do not include any time limit
on the compulsory requirement to prepare for work. So presumably
if a claimant failed to find work they would be required to keep
on preparing for work until they actually found work, reached
pension age or died. If they gave up, their benefit would be reduced.
SCOPE takes the view that the requirement to
prepare for work should be time-limited. If a sick or disabled
claimant fails to return to work after a specified period their
continuing engagement in preparation for work should become voluntary.The
arguments for a time limit are that:
Some individuals are always
likely to find it difficult to return to work, not least because
of their health problems or impairments. One of the reasons why
so many men and women have remained on incapacity benefits for
so long, and given up looking for work, is that they know they
are unlikely to be employers' first choice.
Years of failed job applications
and courses that lead nowhere are likely to dispirit many claimants,
possibly exacerbating mental health problems in particular.
In more difficult local labour
markets there is no realistic hope at present that more than a
small proportion of incapacity claimants can be absorbed back
In the 1980s and 90s, many of the claimant unemployed
were forced onto a merry-go-round of training courses and schemes
that led nowhere. There is a danger that incapacity claimants
will be forced down a similar route.
Long-term engagement in unpaid voluntary work
should be treated as a form of "work". Many disabled
people do valuable unpaid work in the community. Given the barriers
they face, for many this is the only way of making a contribution
to their community and building self-esteem.
3. Comprehensive benefit protection for those
returning to work
If claimants are to move into employment they
have to perceive this option as financially worthwhile and relatively
SCOPE takes the view that there should be comprehensive
benefit protection for incapacity claimants returning to work.
If a job doesn't work out for whatever reason they should be able
to return to the full package of benefits to which they were previously
The arguments for comprehensive benefit protection
The actual benefits package
to which many incapacity claimants are entitled is complexIB
is only part of the jigsaw. Therefore protection for IB alone
(as presently proposed) is insufficient.
Returning to work is an inherently
uncertain process. For some there can be no certainty that health
difficulties will not recur, and for others that they will be
physically or mentally up to the job.
Disability Living Allowance
(DLA) creates disincentives. Although DLA is not means tested
and should not be affected by finding employment, in practice
a review can be triggered. Given the questionable standard of
decision-making on this benefit, this adds to people's fear that
looking for work endangers financial security.
The full package to which claimants were entitled
(including IB, DLA, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Council Tax
Benefit and means-tested personal support) should be protected.
If an individual's circumstances have changed, their benefits
entitlement would in due course be re-assessed of course. Furthermore,
the existing and proposed benefit protection needs to be better
publicisedtoo many claimants are already unaware of their
4. A high quality roll-out for pathways to
The intention is that Pathways to Work will
be rolled out across the whole country. However, it is not clear
that the intention is to roll out the initiative in its present
form. A cheaper, slimmed-down version may be the government's
SCOPE takes the view that there should be no
dilution of the present model. Indeed, it may need to be beefed-up.
The arguments for a high quality roll-out are
In its present form, Pathways
appears to work. The experience in the pilot areas is that the
share of claimants returning to work within six months is up by
around eight percentage points.
If there is to be compulsion
to engage in return to work activity, it is only reasonable that
the employment services provide a high-quality service to claimants.
As Pathways is rolled out further,
away from the high IB areas where it has been piloted, it will
encounter a client group that is increasingly skewed towards those
with greater personal obstacles to re-entering employment. In
the areas with lower IB claimant rates, many people with lesser
health problems and impairments are already in work.
The danger is that because Pathways requires
a major commitment of staff time, rolling it out across the whole
country will lead to corners being cut. A shortage of trained
staff is an obvious short-term constraint. More generally, there
is a danger that the aspiration to roll out Pathways will fall
foul of the parallel government commitment to reduce civil service
220 Not the Green Paper!: The reform of Incapacity
Benefit: alternatives to the government's proposals, SCOPE, London,
January 2006. Back