Memorandum submitted by Citizens Advice Bureau

 


Introduction and summary

 

1.1. Citizens Advice is the national body for Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABx) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The CAB service is the largest independent network of free advice centres in Europe, with 430 main bureaux in England, Wales and Northern Ireland providing advice from over 3,300 outlets, in high streets, community centres, health settings, courts and prisons. In 2007/08 bureaux in England and Wales advised around 2 million people with new or ongoing problems and dealt with 5.5 million enquiries in total. Of these, over 22,000 concerned discrimination issues.

 

1.2. Our service is committed to equality and inclusion. A culture of equality is important to the modern economy, as we rely on outward facing workforce and diverse skills base. Although the UK has come a long way on equality, figures on the gender pay gap, the employment rate for ethnic minorities, and work opportunities for disabled people show that discrimination is still faced by some groups. We therefore welcome the forthcoming Equality Bill which we see as an opportunity to encourage employers and public services, especially DWP, to raise their game in working to eradicate all forms of unfair discrimination.

 

1.3. We welcome this inquiry, and we would particularly like to highlight the following issues which we think need to be addressed by the DWP policymakers in light of the Equality Bill.

 

There are unfair age related discrimination issues in the benefits system, for example where people who are younger get paid less.

 

Some of the most prominent gender related poverty and inequality issues are not being appropriately tackled - for example women and pensions and poverty (although the lower pension age is being removed gradually). 

 

CAB evidence shows that sometimes DWP delivery systems are insufficiently sensitive to different cultural needs, and the needs of vulnerable users, for example with contacting Job Centre Plus.

 

Initiatives to increase disabled peoples' participation in the labour market such as the "Access to Work" programme need to be strengthened and mainstreamed.

 

The welfare reform agenda needs to better address the links between discrimination, dependency and disadvantage.

 

Given that the Equality Bill will introduce new pro-active duties on the public sector, it is vital that DWP takes a lead in delivering an equality agenda through Change Programmes which put the different needs of its customers at the heart of the benefits system and the Government's welfare to work strategy.

 

2. Equality in Employment

 

How effective has DWP been in achieving equality in employment, how would it have to change to achieve greater equality in employment?

 

2.1. We welcome the progress that has been made by the DWP towards achieving greater equality in employment, as evidenced by the Department meeting its targets for employment in areas with high ethnic minority populations - helping 96,300 people find work. Indeed, we note there has been a 1.7% increase in the ethnic minority employment rate. However, the widening gender pay gap and exclusion of vulnerable groups, and public perceptions of discrimination in the workplace, demonstrates that there is still much work to do.

 

2.2. Disabled people in particular continue to experience very high levels of discrimination in the workplace. In 2005, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development found that 33.1% of CIPD members excluded people with a history of long-term sickness or incapacity, even though such policies certainly leave employers very exposed should a disappointed applicant use the Disability Discrimination Act against them.[1] The gap between the employment rate of disabled people and the overall employment rate is 26.8 per cent.[2] Certain impairment groups face more significant barriers and have a lower employment rate, including individuals with a mental health condition at 20 per cent and people with a learning disability at 25 per cent[3]. And where disabled people and those with long term ill-health do find work, they face high levels of hostile and negative treatment in the workplace according to new research published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.[4]

 

2.3. The main DWP initiatives for increasing labour market participation of disabled people and those with other disadvantages are linked to the welfare reform agenda. Citizens Advice supports the Government's view that many people currently on very low income through benefits would prefer to work if they could find employment that paid them enough to leave life on benefits. However, if Government are serious about empowering people to work, it needs to look very closely at the current structure of earnings limits, benefit tapers, linking rules and run-on arrangements, to ensure that as many disincentives to work as possible are removed from the system. Moving into work can be an extremely difficult decision and there is often no certainty that individuals will be any better-off financially. The examples below illustrate this point.

 

A disabled CAB client in Greater Manchester found that his family would be worse off financially if his wife took up a job offer of 30 hours a week at the minimum wage. His wife received Carer's Allowance for looking after him, but would lose this and other benefits if she returned to work. The client would lose his income support and mortgage interest payments as well as having to pay some council tax. As a result, the total family income would be considerably lower than if the client's wife continued to care for him full-time. The CAB adviser stated "this means that the client finds himself in the poverty trap and there is no incentive to seek employment". Instead, the family continued to struggle on a low income, incurring considerable debt and threatened with having to sell the family home.

 

2.4. The apparent reduction in the numbers of disabled people working within the DWP, both in actual numbers and as a percentage, also causes us concern. We consider that it will be necessary to evaluate the total number of disabled people being employed, not simply the number of assessments or adjustments made, or the amount of money spent on them, as not all impairments and conditions require physical adaptations to be made and not all adaptations or adjustments cost money.

 

2.5. Thirdly, we do not consider that DWP has been particularly effective in engaging employers over welfare to work. Employers have a central role to play in these reforms, and in supporting people to secure and retain work. We are therefore disappointed that engagement with employers is still missing from the DWP'S welfare reform agenda, and believe that this lack of real involvement threatens the whole agenda.

 

How can the Equality Bill open up opportunities in employment, particularly for disabled people, carers and pensioners?

 

2.6. An important element of the Bill is the permission to use "positive action" to end cycles of inequality and to redress disadvantage. This should hopefully encourage employers to recruit under-represented groups into organisations or to develop talent within under-represented groups in a workforce through specific training or programmes. Not being able to take under-representation into account when it comes to choosing between equally qualified candidates can be problematic for some services. However, we would be disappointed if "positive measures" encouraged by the Bill are limited to the fast tracking to training of under-represented groups from an equally qualified pool. This is aimed specifically at police forces. It would not apply to most employers who recruit directly to vacant positions. So to encourage positive action, the Bill should provide for a statutory Code of Practice which spells out what kinds of steps would be legal, and examples of good practice. The Bill will also contain "transparency measures" to better monitor the workplace

 

2.7. With respect to carers, we think it is important that they are covered within the scope of the Bill. Many carers would like to be able to combine paid work with their caring responsibilities, but find themselves caught in a 'tax-credit trap'. Carers do not benefit from the 16-hour rule that applies to working tax credit for disabled people. Instead they have to work a minimum of 30 hours a week in order to benefit from working tax credit. Many carers cannot combine this amount of work with their caring responsibilities. But with no financial support for working fewer hours, many carers find they may be better off not working and claiming carers allowance. In addition, for carers finding suitably remunerative employment is not enough - it also needs to be flexible enough to enable them to combine paid work with their caring responsibilities, and there has to be high-quality, affordable, flexible alternative care available locally for the person they care for. The Equality Bill may not tackle these issues directly, but it will provide an incentive and framework for DWP policymakers to address the issue of carers' exclusion from the labour market.

 

How should the Equality Bill respond to the decision in the Malcolm case in respect of disability rights in employment?

 

2.8. The effect of the Malcolm case is that employers may only have duties to make a 'reasonable adjustments' where employers either know, or could reasonably be expected to know, that an employee has a disability and is likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage. This effectively takes away any anticipatory element of reasonable adjustments, excludes any concept of indirect discrimination, and has made it far more difficult for a disabled person to establish a case of disability-related less favourable treatment

 

2.9. The difficulty with the Malcolm decision is that disability-related discrimination worked well in the labour market, where it could be justified by a 'reasonableness' test. On the other hand, it has proved very difficult to prove cases on the basis of the more recently introduced principle of direct disability discrimination. Hence, in equating disability-related discrimination with direct discrimination, the House of Lords has effectively neutralised the disability-related discrimination concept in the labour market.

 

2.10. This places great pressure on the reasonable adjustments duty which has also worked well in the labour market but, until now, in conjunction with disability-related discrimination. In the past, it has been typical for claimants to win on both disability discrimination and the reasonable adjustment duty. This will not always be the case. For example,:

 

A North East Wales CAB's client had been on long-term sick leave for 8 months before he was dismissed by his employer. The client argued that his dismissal was unfair and discriminatory and that his employer should have made reasonable adjustments which would have allowed him to return to work. The Employment Tribunal reached the decision that the client had been unfairly dismissed, but given the House of Lords decision in Lewisham v Malcolm [2008] UKHL 43, the client's claim of disability-related discrimination could not be considered as having any merit. The client's claim for reasonable adjustments was also dismissed by the Tribunal. The Tribunal however held that the client had been unfairly dismissed. This is paradoxical as he might well have won his case on grounds of disability related discrimination prior to Malcolm. Hence the case is taken out of disability policy and into the realms of general employment policy.

 

2.11. There is therefore a danger of a significant gap developing in disability employment equality law. We consider that the Equality Bill should redress this either by including a concept of indirect discrimination and placing less emphasis on the identification of appropriate comparators or by resuscitating the concept of disability-related discrimination but in a fashion which restores the concept to its position prior to Malcolm. It is also essential that the reasonable adjustment duty is retained.

 

How should the Government improve protection of carers in equality legislation, following the decision in the Coleman case?

 

2.12. Citizens Advice were especially heartened by the recognition of carers' rights in the Coleman case, in which the European Court of Justice upheld the earlier opinion of the Advocate General that treating employees less favourably because of their association with a disabled person was unlawful under European discrimination law. We are also heartened by the Employment Tribunal decision of 26 November which allowed private sector claimants, such as Mrs Coleman, to be able to proceed with cases of discrimination and harassment on the basis of associative discrimination. However this tribunal decision could be subject to appeal and, in any event, we consider that, in order for this judgment to be properly reflected in UK law, either European Communities Act Regulations or the Equality Bill should include a "discrimination by association" provision.

 

2.13. However, there are wider implications from the Coleman judgment. The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 also restrict claims of discrimination to those who have been discriminated against on grounds of their own age. It seems clear from the Coleman judgment that the principle of 'associative discrimination' should apply to age discrimination also. If this is the case, carers of dependent children should not be discriminated against on grounds of their children's age (unless it is justified to do so), for example in family leave provisions.

 

2.14. Citizens Advice therefore considers that the Government's determination to exclude protection for carers from the Single Equality Bill fails to recognise the increasing need of such protection. Instead of having a patchwork of rights under disability and age discrimination statutes, it would be preferable if a proper system of anti-discrimination protection for carers was put in place.

 

3. Equality in Goods, Facilities and Services

 

How could the duties in Goods, Facilities and Services of the DDA be built on to deliver systemic change?

 

3.1. In contrast to the DDA provisions affecting employers, providers of public goods, facilities and services have an anticipatory duty to the disabled population. We agreee that it is important that the duty to make reasonable adjustments should not just arise when a disabled person wants to use a service; otherwise reasonable adjustments may be used as a cop-out for compliance with general equality duties or absolute legal requirements. This principle should be extended to other areas through the single equality duty. However, existing duties only require public bodies to have 'due regard' to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality; this merely requires a body to consider the need to promote equality within a context of competing priorities, rather than to take any action.

 

3.2. We would therefore hope to see a much stronger formulation in the general duty, which should be framed in a way that is outcome focussed, setting out the aim of the duty and a requirement to take necessary and proportionate steps to fulfil the duty.

 

3.3. As discussed above, the concept of disability related discrimination has been effectively neutralised across the DDA, including in relation to goods, facilities and services. As in employment, this outcome places great pressure on the reasonable adjustment duty, even though the duty is anticipatory in relation to goods, facilities and services cases.

 

3.4. Therefore, we consider that disability related discrimination should be resuscitated but on a labour market model whereby it can be justified by an open test of justification rather than a closed list of exceptions as presently set out for GFS. In the alternative, an indirect discrimination concept could be introduced. It is already proposed by the Government Equalities Office that the employment definition of indirect discrimination should be applied to goods, facilities and services under other strands. It would be essential to have the employment definition of indirect discrimination applied to goods, facilities and service in disability cases.

 

What is the draft EU Directive in GFS proposing and what are the implications for transposition of a new EU Directive for UK law? Is the draft EU directive welcomed? Does the Equality Bill incorporate the provisions of the draft directive?

 

3.5. Citizens Advice welcomes the draft directive, and is satisfied that the European Commission has produced a proposed Framework Goods & Services Directive (FGSD) across all four grounds originally identified in the Framework Employment Equality Directive 2000 (FEED). We note that the Commission has relied heavily on the provisions of the FEED, together with those of the Race Directive 2000, which covers goods and services, education, etc, as well as employment and the Gender Goods & Services Directive 2004, which covers goods and services.

 

3.6. The UK government have identified several areas where our current domestic legislation would not meet the requirements of the proposed directive, in particular that there are no provisions for indirect disability discrimination, and no explicit provisions on harassment in relation to disability, religion belief or sexual orientation outside the employment area. Ensuring that the requirements of the Directive are incorporated in the Equality Bill would, in our view, strengthen the legal obligations for anticipatory general access for disabled people.

 

3.7. Citizens Advice has supported some amendments to the draft directive. These include:

Reference to additional human rights instruments in the Preamble to the draft directive, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Paris Principles on national human rights institutions;

Explicit coverage of multiple discrimination between strands;

Explicit reference to transport as an example of goods and services;

Strengthening the ability of NGOs to act in their own name on behalf of named complainants;

Reference to public procurement as means of achieving objectives of directive.

 

How can it be made easier for disabled people, carers and pensioners to bring and pursue cases in GFS? Should discrimination by association extend to GFS?

 

3.8. Firstly, we would renew our call for the inclusion of a provision on representative actions in the Equality Bill. However, we also need a wider review on redress mechanisms for discrimination claims concerning goods, facilities and services. Whilst employment tribunals have developed considerable experience and expertise in matters relating to discrimination in employment, far fewer goods, facilities and services discrimination claims are brought before the county courts, so accordingly there is less discrimination expertise and case law (in the broadest sense) to indicate to firms what the law means in practice. This has resulted in unpredictability and decisions of variable quality. We would also welcome a broad provision for discrimination by association extended to GFS.

 

What are the implications of the Malcolm case and how should the Equality Bill take these into account? How effective are the provisions in part 3 of the DDA on buying, selling and letting?

 

3.9. Further to comments above on the Malcolm case, we welcome the DWP Office for Disability's consultation on addressing the issues arising out of the Malcolm case and the commitment to intend to base protection for disabled people on the concept of indirect discrimination.[5] The Equality Bill should include a provision that requires a duty holder to fulfill the duty to make reasonable adjustments before that duty holder can seek to objectively justify indirect discrimination. In most cases, disabled people can rely on the duty to make reasonable adjustments to challenge disability-related discrimination. However, this solution does not apply universally and it is less likely to assist in cases involving premises, because managers of premises are not under a duty to make reasonable adjustments in anticipation of the requirements of a disabled person. Instead, they only have to respond to a request for adjustment. The Equality Bill should seek to address this inconsistency. Alternatively, a resuscitated version of 'disability related discrimination' could be introduced.

 

4. The Public Sector Equality Duty

 

How could a Disability Equality Duty in the public sector be built upon within a Single Equality Duty? Is a Single Duty desirable? Will there be unintended consequences for disabled people or disability rights?

 

4.1. The Disability Equality Duty (DED) was a bold attempt to address the reactive nature of the legal protections and to make these legal protections more pro-active. As suggested above, we see significant benefits to strengthening the duty and extending it to all grounds under a single duty. We regularly see cases in which public bodies are failing in their duty to meet the needs of disabled customers. Such cases not only raise issues about DDA compliance, but more general issues about fairness and access for customers with special or different needs. For example:

A North-East Wales CAB advised a client, a single, white woman who meets the definition of having a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and relies upon the assistance of a carer for many day to day needs. The client had been recommended by her GP to participate in water-based activities as part of her therapy and sought to access a swimming pool operated by the local authority. Both disabled individual and their carer were charged the full price for pool entry, despite the fact that the carer entered not as a customer but as an essential support to the disabled person. The bureau considered the policy to be discriminatory as it makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled individuals who require a carer to enjoy the facility as it imposes additional costs. Consequently the client (and others in a similar situation) was unable to fully benefit from local services. The Local Authority was reluctant to take seriously its obligations under the DDA and to abide by its own Disability Equality Scheme. However, through the bureau's efforts the Local Authority changed its policy and practice.

4.2. There are some 42,000 organisations that come under the DED, so it is important to encourage them to change their policies, not just to avoid discrimination but to promote equal opportunities and fairness. The Equality Bill is an opportunity to improve on the existing duties through the operation of a single equality duty. However, the duty needs to be robustly framed; it would be a lost opportunity if specific reasonable adjustment duties currently in place were to be replaced with non enforceable principles. So the specific reasonable adjustment duties should remain in place, supported by the general duty.

 

4.3. There will clearly be a lot of work to do to achieve compliance with the public sector duties, so the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms need to be robust, particularly in being able to strike down blanket policies which may breach not only a particular provision, but also the public sector duty. For example:

 

A CAB in Sussex reported the case of a dyslexic client who was going to Job Centre Plus to attend three-monthly interviews but had his wife accompanying him to help with form filling and reading documents. Although this had not caused any problem in the past they were informed that a management decision was now in effect preventing overcrowding in the summer holidays. Therefore relatives and friends of clients had to wait outside. Though it was a very hot day and there was clearly plenty of available seating space in the air conditioned office, the client's wife and daughter had been forced to wait outside. And despite his protests, the staff were totally impervious and the client had to attend the interview on his own in a deeply distressed and aggravated state. He was not able to fully understand the interview and the decision to which he agreed to, namely to apply for a minimum of one job a week and provide evidence of this. He would not have agreed to this had his wife been present. The management decision took no account of his impairment and was aggravated by totally inflexible and uncaring staff who seemed incapable, or unwilling, to accommodate the client's needs.

 

Has the Disability Equality Duty been effective in promoting equality in the public sector, including local government?

 

4.4. The DED has only been operational for two years, so it is genuinely difficult to identify evidence and to draw conclusions about its effectiveness to date. Disability Equality Schemes require public bodies to gather and analyse data and other evidence relating to disability equality in accessing services, and the Commission for Equality and Human Rights Commission should lead on aggregating this evidence base, reviewing the evidence from disability equality impact assessments and making cross-sectoral comparisons.

 

What is the evidence in the DWP Secretary of State's report on the success of the Duty in his department? How does the Department fare in promoting equality and tackling discrimination?

 

4.5. We welcome the fact that the DWP has led the way in Government on developing an integrated equality scheme.[6] Our concern though is that the DWP do not sufficiently prioritise equality issues in the policymaking process, and specifically in the design and delivery of the benefits system. For example, the DWP leads for Government on age equality policy, and on older people and the ageing society strategy, yet there continue to be age differentials in the benefit system. In our view, these are the key issues on which this Select Committee inquiry should be focused, especially:

 

Age differentials in the benefit system;

The experience of black and ethnic minority communities in using the benefit system;

Ensuring equality in delivery by addressing the access needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, such as those with mental health conditions.

 

Age differentials in the benefit system: Lower personal allowances for under 25s

 

4.6. Citizens Advice has long highlighted the inherent unfairness of a system that pays a lower rate of benefit based solely on age. For example, differentials in personal allowances for income support and jobseekers allowance mean that a young person aged 18-24 will get 47.95 whilst those aged 25+ get 60.50. The same differential applies to lone parents under 18 (47.95) and over 18 (60.50). The design of these benefits assumes that young people will be living at home, or will be otherwise financially supported by their parents.

 

4.7. Bureaux regularly see young people living independently who are struggling to get by on much reduced benefit amounts, despite there being no difference in living costs:

 

A CAB in the West Midlands saw a 23-year-old client struggling to pay for the basic costs of living. He lived in local authority accommodation, and received housing benefit, council tax benefit and industrial injuries benefit. He was waiting for a JSA claim to be processed. The bureau adviser noted that the Money Advice Trust self-help pack, 'Dealing with your debt', suggests allowing 35-45 a week for each adult for housekeeping costs, and yet their client only received 44.50 a week. If the client was aged 25, he would be entitled to 56.20 each week, even though his circumstances would be no different, and this extra money would relieve a lot of pressure for the client. The adviser commented that the younger age group might have even more need of the additional money as they are more likely to be moving out of their parents' home and setting up their own home.

 

A CAB in Tyne and Wear saw a 21-year-old woman who had been made redundant and discovered that, despite working for the last five years and paying National Insurance contributions all the while, she could only claim the reduced rate of JSA and that the local housing allowance rules meant that she had a shortfall in her rent of 6 a week. This was because she was only entitled to the single room rate of HB although she was renting a one-bedroom flat. She was very worried about getting behind with the rent, particularly as winter was approaching and her fuel bills would use up a lot of her income. She was worried that falling behind with her rent would lead to eviction.

 

4.8. This situation is compounded by lack of entitlement to working tax credit for under-25s (unless they have a child or are disabled):

 

A CAB in Suffolk saw a 21-year-old client who was really struggling to manage on her limited income. She was living on her own in social housing and worked 31 hours a week. She had two jobs, both working with children, at the minimum wage. She was paying full rent and council tax, although the adviser estimated that she might have been entitled to housing benefit of approximately 1 a week. If she were 25 or had a child she would be able to claim working tax credit, an additional 45.08 a week, increasing her income from 148.43 to 193.51 a week. The adviser was unable to see how a young person's living expenses would be any different at 25 than 21.

 

Age differentials in the benefit system: Single/shared room rent

 

4.9. Since the introduction of the local housing allowance in April 2008, the Single Room Rent has been renamed the Shared Room Rate (SRR). The SRR restricts the amount of housing benefit a single person aged under 25 can receive to the average rent for shared accommodation. As a result, many young people face huge shortfalls between their HB and their rent, driving many into rent arrears and homelessness and making private landlords reluctant to let to this age group:

 

A CAB in Suffolk saw a 20-year-old who had had to move back in with his parents because he could not find anywhere affordable to live, despite their not wanting him to live with them. He was dividing his time between his parents' house and staying with other family and friends. He had the opportunity to move into a flat, which had a market rate of 450 a month. The bureau adviser established that the local single room rent was 257.80 a month. The local reference rent for a person over 25 was 435 for a one-bed flat. The adviser noted that if the client had been 25 he could have taken this property and got housing benefit for it. As it was, it was almost impossible for young people in the area to find somewhere for the single (shared) room rent.

 

4.10. Since its inception eleven years ago, the SRR has been deeply controversial and subject to sustained criticism for increasing the risk that young people will face poverty, debt and homelessness, so making it more difficult to find and sustain employment. The resulting social exclusion creates a legacy of disadvantage that can last for years.

 

4.11. The SRR predated this Government and indeed was introduced in the face of strong opposition at the time. Much has changed since, and it does not now sit easily with the recent changes to end discrimination on the grounds of age.

 

4.12. Under the local housing allowance, the way in which housing benefit is calculated and paid has changed. The change is intended to support the wider welfare to work agenda. Abolishing the under 25s shared room rate restriction in the Local Housing Allowance would contribute to this agenda as well as being consistent with the broader benefits simplification programme.

 

Age differentials in the benefit system: Attendance allowance

 

4.13. The payment of attendance allowance (AA) to disabled older people recognises their need for extra financial support. However, alongside the poor rate of take up (estimated at only 40-60%), and the lack of help provided with daily living costs such as help with cleaning and shopping, older people suffer discrimination because AA, unlike disability living allowance for people of working age, has no provision to help with mobility costs.

 

4.14. We consider that AA should be enhanced to cover these shortcomings and should be mainstreamed to ensure that all recipients of a basic state pension would be regularly reminded that they could apply to have their pension enhanced in the light of additional needs.

 

Age differentials in the benefit system: women and pensions

 

4.15. Many women, carers, disabled people and people with varied work patterns currently qualify for much less than the full basic state pension because they have incomplete National Insurance records. This accounts for much pensioner poverty. Pension provision, and security in old age, is of huge importance to our clients, many of whom are on low incomes or have interrupted work histories. Many current pensioners visit Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABs) because they are unable to make ends meet - many are not claiming all of the means-tested benefits that they are entitled to. Many older people feel very strongly that the state pension should be adequate to live on and that they should not have to apply for means-tested benefits.

 

4.16. There is a gender aspect to the provision of care and pensioner poverty. Women in their 40s are the age/sex group cited to be least likely to be contributing to a private pension. The peak age of caring is between 45 and 64, when one in four people provide care. Caring responsibilities and inadequate pension provision are part of a pattern that is linked to childcare and other barriers to pension provision faced by women.

 

4.17. Citizens Advice has welcomed the introduction of the Pensions Act 2007, which will go a long way to recognising in particular women's and carers' contributions to society and begin to ensure that they do not suffer poverty in retirement. A number of measures will help women and carers to build pension entitlement and reduce reliance on means-testing in the future, including:

 

Reducing the number of qualifying years for the full Basic State Pension to 30. This will mean that women and carers with disrupted contribution records can still build up entitlement to a full Basic State Pension;

Equalising the state pension age at 65 for both men and women by 2010;

Removing the first contribution condition. This will mean that someone who has never worked, because of the nature of their caring responsibilities, can still qualify for a full Basic State Pension;

Introducing a new Carer's Credit for people caring for 20 hours a week or more for someone who is severely disabled. This should mean that thousands more carers are eligible for a full Basic State Pension and State Second Pension; and

Introducing personal accounts with employer contributions. This should help people on a low income to build up entitlements.

 

BME Experience of using the benefit system

 

4.18. CABx have found that claimants from ethnic minority communities can experience a poor service quality from the outset. Failure of Jobcentre Plus staff to assist claimants with English language difficulties in completing application forms is the most frequent issue reported to us by CABx about clients from ethnic minority communities. Bureaux frequently report clients being advised by local office staff to visit their CAB for help with completing the form or they are simply told that there is no help available. For example:

 

A CAB in Yorkshire reported that a lone parent who was an asylum seeker obtained exceptional leave to remain in the UK. Her native language was Tigrianian, but she can speak, write, and read it English and understand simple matters if people speak clearly. She lived in NASS accommodation until March 2008 when she got leave to remain but did not get advice about claiming child tax credit. At her previous accommodation in another town, she had been claiming income support and child benefit. After moving in July 2008, her IS was stopped and she needed to make a new claim. Three times she went to the local Job Centre to complete the IS claim, but they had no translation service and the issue was never resolved, nor was she told how to get help with the problem. She has not been able to complete her new claim until seeking advice from the CAB.

 

A CAB in North London reported that a man who was born in Austria and spoke German and Turkish had great difficulties claiming jobseekers allowance. His English was poor, so when he phoned the claims line, he could not understand any of the questions he was asked on the phone... in fact he could understand nothing. So he went back to the JobCentre and he was told to go to the CAB. The CAB gave him a letter to take back to Job Centre requesting an interpreter and referring to the JobCentre Service Standards. However, the Jobcentre told him to use their internal phone and finally had to go into the street and ask a passer buy to help him use the phone inside the jobcentre by interpreting for him. The client was completely bewildered by how he could claim any benefits or get any advice at all about how he could feed and look after his family in the UK and what his rights are and any help to find employment.

 

A Merseyside CAB reported that a Portuguese woman with limited English went to the local Jobcentre to claim benefits because she was pregnant. Because of her limited understanding of English, the Jobcentre referred her to the CAB to assist with benefits claim instead of arranging interpreter facilities themselves. As a result the client had a long wait at Jobcentre and another long wait at CAB office.

 

4.19. Other reports show a lack of cultural sensitivity or understanding of language barriers. CAB advisers have reported experiences that further emphasise that Jobcentre staff did not adequately appreciate the difficulties in navigating the complexities of the benefit system by claimants whose first language is not English:

 

A CAB in Kent reported that a Chinese man had been self-employed for 10 years but gave it up and had five months off work while looking for a new job. He did go to the JobCentre but failed to sign on as a) his wife was working and b) he was handed a large wad of papers and as he cannot speak or write English was a bit overwhelmed. No one explained to him that by signing on he would have kept his national insurance contributions intact by them being credited to him while he was on JSA. Now he was unable to work through illness and his claim for incapacity benefit had been turned down because he did not have enough contributions.

 

A CAB in the West Midlands reported that a Kuwaiti man who had been granted asylum in the UK was sent a cheque for 558.49 which related to backdated income support whilst he was awaiting his asylum application. The client tried to pay this cheque into his Post Office card account but he was told that he could not do this as the maximum amount that can be paid into the account by cheque was 300. The client was told that he had to get two cheques to split the 558.49. Despite promises by the Jobcentre, he had not received the two cheques, and because of his poor English, he had had great difficulty in getting access or telephoning the Jobcentre. He had asked the Jobcentre if his friend could act as an interpreter and this was refused.

 

4.20. Such cases suggest that improved training for Jobcentre Plus staff would help to ensure that clients were offered access to interpreters and assistance with their claim forms at the outset. Ideally, staff should be proactive in ensuring that the claimants understand what the problem is, when any information is lacking or inconsistent on the claim. Training for medical services doctors on the needs of ethnic minority communities should also be continually improved and monitored.

 
 
Failure to provide interpreters for appeal tribunals

 

4.21. CABx have also expressed concern that clients with language difficulties have not been provided with interpreters at appeal tribunals. This has either resulted in a loss of appeal or at the least a delay in the resolution of the dispute:

 

A CAB in North London reported that an Asian man appealed the decision to refuse him disability living allowance in August 2007. The hearing took eight months to arrange. The original heating was set for 7 December 2007, but was adjourned at the request of the client because he had difficulties obtaining representation. A further hearing date was set for 6 March 2008. However, this hearing was also adjourned, as a result of the Tribunals Service interpreter not turning up to the hearing. It is the responsibility of the Tribunals Service to provide the services of an interpreter, and in this case they failed to do so. The hearing was adjourned until 14 April 2008, when it took place and a decision was made.

 

Failure to understand the needs of asylum seekers

 

4.22. CABx regularly report that there is a lack of awareness of the special needs of asylum seekers who have faced transition from support by the National Asylum Support Service to eligibility to support under the benefits system:

 

A CAB in West London reported that a Croatian refugee with indefinite leave to remain was unable to read and write as she had had no formal education. She also spoke no English. The client applied for jobseekers allowance, but her claim was suspended as the Jobcentre found she was not 'actively seeking work'. The Jobcentre insisted that she had to speak to 3-4 employers per week to meet this rule but this was impossible for the client as she could not read advertisements or speak to employers on telephone. The client was very isolated and did not seem to have been offered any useful assistance or been put in touch with any relevant agencies that might be able to assist her. At the time she sought advice, the client was living on 20 per week given to her by daughter.

 

A CAB in North London reported that an Iraqi national who was granted indefinite leave to remain in February 2007, had applied for incapacity benefit in May 2007 because he suffered from depression. The client sought advice in March 2008 because he had not got any payment, and the Jobcentre were unable to help him. The CAB discovered that he was not getting incapacity benefit because he did not have any national insurance contributions. In this situation, he should have been told by the Jobcentre to apply for income support instead. In the meantime he had been living on 35 a week from the Refugee Council.

 

Equality in delivery

 

4.23. Citizens Advice has long had concerns about the ability of Jobcentre Plus to deal sensitively, and appropriately, with their most vulnerable customers. This has been particularly true since the introduction of telephone-based systems as the 'preferred method' for claiming benefits. Our 2007 report, Not getting through highlighted the almost complete lack of service available to people who were not able to use the phone, either because they had a learning disability or speech impediment, or because English was not their first language.

 

4.24. At the time, bureaux reported that the changes had caused significant disruption and hardship for thousands of benefit claimants. The most vulnerable claimants - homeless people and people with mental health, learning or other disabilities - suffered the worst as local office support decreased and alternatives to phone contact were refused. As we noted, in introducing a telephone system to suit the majority of claimants, Jobcentre Plus failed to ensure ready access to benefit services for claimants unable to use the phone, or without suitable access to a landline.

 

4.25. In response to sustained criticism, Jobcentre Plus introduced their Accessing Jobcentre Plus Customer Services programme across the network in June 2008. New guidance on dealing with vulnerable claimants was issued to Jobcentre Plus staff in October 2008, outlining the personal situations and circumstances that might help define a person as 'vulnerable', and outlining the additional support they might require. Citizens Advice has welcomed this, and will continue to monitor their impact. There is still some way to go to ensure that all vulnerable claimants receive an appropriate service from Jobcentre Plus:

 

A South London CAB saw a 50-year-old client who was very frustrated at having been turned away from a local Jobcentre Plus office, even though he had an appointment. He had a chaotic lifestyle, living sometimes with his father and otherwise sleeping rough. He had been unfit for work since April 2008. He had been refused income support, and had appealed. He claimed again, and was given an appointment at his local Jobcentre Plus. He turned up on time but was sent away, despite the official agreeing that there was an appointment showing on the computer. The official told him this was because "we don't do appointments". This was at odds with the commitment that all Jobcentre Plus offices would be able to make face-to-face appointments for clients who need them from the end of June 2008.

 

A Kent CAB reported that a man who was unable to work as the result of a severe stroke, whose wife gave up work to look after him, had applied for a transfer to specially adapted accommodation. Suddenly suitable accommodation came up, but the client and his wife only had two weeks to move in, or they would lose it. So they moved using their regular benefit income to pay for the moving costs as the Jobcentre told them were told it would be 8 - 10 weeks before a community care grant application could be processed. Their new home had no cooking or refrigeration facilities, limited furnishings and no carpet and the clients had no money to buy them. The former was serious as the wife, who had diabetes, required a regular diet of properly cooked food. The wife applied to the job centre for a crisis loan but was told that such claims were now centred at Lowestoft and she should apply by phone. She tried the appropriate number for four days before coming to the bureau but constantly got an engaged signal. The CAB told them that they could make a written application and downloaded the relevant form from the DWP website.

 

How is success measured, and what are the challenges around monitoring and self-declaration of disabilities and caring responsibilities?

 

4.26. Comprehensive monitoring should be carried out, but there needs to be a clear purpose to the data collection, for example, for improving outcomes for service users or staff. In order to make data collection consistent, a measuring instruments need to be developed to chart the effectiveness of equality schemes in a consistent manner. Public bodies should therefore implement robust systems for monitoring equality around employment and service delivery to improve inclusivity.

 

4.27. We have argued for inspection-based enforcement of compliance with equality duties. This works for example with the regime associated with the National Minimum Wage. The public service inspectorates could have a role in working directly with EHRC on equality on monitoring equality duties, enabling the Commission to issue compliance notices.

 

How could procurement be made a more effective lever for equality outcomes? What are the good practice examples in the public, private and voluntary sectors? How can guidance on procurement improve at EU and national level to make procurement a more effective lever for equality outcomes?

 

4.28. We do not intend to comment on the questions relating to public sector procurement procedures. However, we welcome the policy innovation that the Equality Duty will require public bodies to tackle discrimination and promote equality through their purchasing functions. Clearly another route towards ensuring the best reach for public sector equality policy and maximising equality outcomes in the private sector is through contracts between the public sector and the private sector. The inclusion of equality as criteria within the public sector procurement process will undoubtedly be a powerful incentive for private and voluntary sector providers to put in place equality policies. This practice, established in response to the public sector equality duty, should be encouraged and strengthened. 160 billion is spent by the public sector on private sector contracts every year, so this is a powerful tool to drive up standards in the private sector.

 

5. Private Sector commitment and support, guidance, advice and information for employers

 

Is an Equality Duty on the Private Sector workable?

 

5.1. The idea of introducing positive equality duties in the private sector was rejected by the discrimination law review as entailing a 'significant regulatory burden', and instead policy makers have adopted a voluntary approach. We agree that equality duties on the private sector, particularly small businesses, would be unworkable. However, we would like to see the Government take a more ambitious approach both to action by the private sector; and to promoting good practice across all sectors. We routinely come across cases of discrimination in the private sector both in employment and goods and services cases. For example:

 

A disabled client with a substantial hearing impairment and communicating through a British Sign Language Interpreter visited a CAB in North East Wales after having been unable to fully access the advice services of her bank. The client had been a customer of the bank for a number of years, although mostly corresponding with them in writing through a BSL interpreter. The client had received an appointment with the bank for which she was refused the services of a BSL interpreter, leaving her therefore unable to make any informed decisions regarding her account.

 

A CAB in Staffordshire saw a client who informed them that he had witnessed employment discrimination by an agency. First, the agency had not paid him holiday pay though he thought it was due to him. He also advised that the agency would refuse to take on black workers because they could not complete a writing test, though there were people in some workplaces who did not complete such a test. Also, by speaking to some colleagues, notably from Poland, he Iearnt that some got their jobs by paying a fee to the employer (up to 500). Finally, he added that the housing could be supplied by the employer, who requested a deposit and then would put ten to fifteen workers in one house.

 

What can be done in the realm of light-touch regulations, guidance and advice to promote a culture change in the private sector for all those subject to discrimination? What more could be done to support SME's to achieve greater equality for disabled people?

 

5.2. There are a wide range of tools, which fall short of the statutory duty approach, including fiscal incentives such as tax credits for 'good' employers from a diversity perspective. Such measures have been used to encourage employers to invest in workforce development and management and similar tools could be used to bring greater compliance with equality and discrimination legislation, and broader public policy goals.

 

5.3. A key option that should be considered is the role of market regulators, such as the FSA, Ofcom, Ofgem, OFT and local trading standards services in improving fair treatment and equality standards in the private sector, both in consumer and employer markets. The Equality Bill should include a statutory role for the Commission for Equality and Human Rights in working with regulators, and introduce equality and fairness indicators as part of their regulatory criteria and functions. This, in effect, is the model of co-regulation.

 

6. Access to Work

 

How can the Access to Work scheme better enable people to obtain, stay and progress in work? What impact has there been on disabled people's entry to and progress in employment in central government departments since the Access to Work scheme was withdrawn? What would be the impact if the withdrawal was extended across the public sector? How can Access to Work better support people with mental illness and fluctuating illnesses? To what extent can Access to Work be included within Individualised Budgets?

 

6.1. The Access to Work scheme has proven to be very popular with those disabled people who use it, but is little known by employers or other disabled people. The scheme needs better promotion, to ensure that both employers and employees are aware of the financial help that is available to pay for adaptations and additional costs. The Royal National Institute for the Blind has calculated that every 1 spent on Access to Work brings in 1.70 to the Treasury, in terms of income from tax and national insurance. On this basis, we would press hard for Government to take this opportunity to increase spending rather than withdraw funding from Access to Work.

 

6.2. The timeliness of Access to Work provision has been a major problem though. There is currently an unacceptable delay in assessments and/or the provision of equipment. Disabled people, providers of specialist employment services and employers need to be confident that the necessary aids and adaptations will be in place in order for them to start working on their first day of employment.

 

6.3. For many people, their needs are likely to be similar across a number of workplaces. It should be possible for an assessment to be made of a person's likely adaptation/equipment needs whilst they are looking for a job, so that a disabled person can take an appropriate package with them into the workplace, which could then be modified as that particular job demands. At the very least, it must be possible for Access to Work assessments to be completed before the job starts.

 

6.4. Citizens Advice would therefore like to see the introduction of standard processing times for securing assessment and support from Access to Work. This would help to address the issue of timeliness.

 

6.5. Secondly, employers must have clear information about what constitutes reasonable adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act, and support to implement these. Many small employers believe, often wrongly, that the costs of employing a disabled person may be prohibitively expensive. Employers need a better understanding about what support is available from Access to Work and how to access this. It is also vital to emphasise that Access to Work shouldn't be restricted to filling the gaps in employer's duties under the DDA.

 

6.6. Citizens Advice is concerned that increasing employer contributions risks penalising those employers who do employ disabled people, rather than sharing the cost amongst all employers and society at large. We would be concerned if increase costs were to lead to fewer disabled people being employed. This might be less of a concern if there was a radical shift in employer attitudes to employing disabled people but, given the current reluctance amongst employers, we would be concerned that increased contributions would simply result in even lower employment rates amongst disabled people.

 

6.7. As regards the "withdrawal" of access to work, our understanding has always been that it is not so much a case of the DWP abandoning the scheme, but rather a policy that it should be mainstreamed across departmental budgets. However, monitoring needs to take place to ensure that this is happening, and we are concerned that a lack of policy co-ordination may leave the scheme withering. And as to meeting the future costs of the scheme, whilst we agree that the public sector should take the lead, we would be very concerned if an expectation that public bodies would carry 100 per cent of the cost of equipment/adaptations led to a reduction in the numbers of disabled people being employed. In principle, the public sector should be taking the lead in employment policy and practice with regard to employing disabled people. However, in a tight financial climate it is difficult to see where Whitehall Departments, local authorities and other bodies will find the necessary resources.

 

6.8. Disabled people have regularly told us that effective Access to Work funding is vital to their employment opportunities. Changes in social care have also resulted in many more disabled people receiving self-directed support, for example individual budgets. So there is a clear need to further explore the potential relationship between the individual budget principle and employment.

 

7. Single Equality Act

 

How does disability fit in a single Equality Act?

 

7.1. We consider that disability should fit symetrically with the other strands. For example, there is no concept of indirect discrimination in current protection for disabled people. Consequently, everyone except disabled people are protected from terms and conditions in contracts which have a greater impact on that group than on everyone else and cannot be objectively justified ('indirect discrimination'). Fairness and simplicity require that disabled people should be given the same protection in employment and in accessing services. This would mean that, rather than every individual having to ask for reasonable adjustments on a case-by-case basis, employers and service providers would have to remove barriers which constitute indirect discrimination, benefiting more disabled people.

 

Should the 'social model' or 'medical model' apply for disability?

 

7.2. Yes, we agree with the social model of disability; the tension between the social and medical models is particularly evident in the medical assessments process. In social security benefits, disabled people have to demonstrate that they have particular levels of care or mobility needs in order to qualify for disability living allowance (for needs that start before age 65), or attendance allowance (for needs that start from 65 onwards). The claim form is a self assessment, but the DWP may supplement the information provided by the applicant by contacting their GP or other doctor, or by arranging for the applicant to be examined by a doctor retained for the purpose by the DWP. Conflicting views can arise between the applicant's own doctor and the one acting for DWP over the impact that the disability has on the applicant's every day needs. A person's own doctor will be focussed on dealing with the medical impact of their condition, while the doctor acting for the DWP should be focussed on what the person's care or mobility needs are. People who appeal against refusal of disability benefits have a success rate of about 50% at appeal tribunals, which seems likely to be attributable to the poor standard of the assessments carried out by doctors acting for the DWP.

 

7.3. Citizens Advice Bureaux have long been concerned about the flaws in the process and the quality of medical assessments and the decisions based upon them.[7] Often, incorrect decision-making causes substantial drops in income whilst clients have to go through an arduous and lengthy appeals process.

 

What is the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission within the single Equality Act? What is the role of the Office for Disability issues within the single Equality Act?

 

We would like to see the Government take the opportunity to strengthen the powers of the EHRC; for the new duties to be effective and meaningful the Commission should have the power to issue compliance notices to remedy breaches, and the ability to initiate representative actions where appropriate.

 

We recognise the benefit of retaining the Office for Disability Issues as part of the Department for Work and Pensions as a focal point within Government for co-ordinating disability policy and ensuring that the recommendations from the strategy report 'Improving Life Chances of Disabled People' are implemented. As a result of the recommendations in this report, the Independent Living Review was set up and in March 2008 a new Independent Living Strategy was launched. However, there needs to be better policy co-ordination on equality and disability issues across Whitehall, and the problems with the Access to Work scheme perhaps illustrate that this is missing. The Government Equality Office has a key role to play here. The Government Equality Office should be allowed, and encouraged, to engage on all of the PSAs that relate to socio-economic inequality as well as those dealing directly with the six discrimination grounds, ensuring the interaction between the two is recognised in the steps taken to achieve targets and measure progress.

 

 

November 2008



[1] CIPD (Summer/Autumn 2005) Labour Market Outlook

[2] Labour Force Survey 1998-2006

[3] Labour Force Survey 2005

[4] Work fit for all - disability, health and the experience of negative treatment in the British workplace EHRC Nov 2008

[5] Improving Protection From Disability Discrimination Consultation DWP November 2008

[6] Department for Work and Pensions Race, Disability and Gender Equality Schemes 2008 - 2011

[7] What the doctor ordered? CAB evidence on medical assessments for incapacity and disability benefits, Citizens Advice 2006