Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Written evidence submitted by Mencap (WRW 17)

About Royal Mencap Society

Mencap supports the 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK and their families and carers. Mencap fights to change laws and improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities, supporting thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.

Mencap is also a member of the Disability Benefits Consortium which is 60 disability charities working towards a fair benefits system for disabled people, their families and carers. There is significant read across between the two submissions and we would draw the committee’s attention to this.

In addition we support the submission from Golden Lane Housing, our housing arm and again would encourage the Committee to view that.

Summary

1. At Mencap we wish to see the 1.4 million people with a learning disability valued equally, listened to and included in society. Unfortunately much work needs to be done to achieve this. Many live in poverty and less than 1 in 10 people with a learning disability are employed despite the fact that the majority wish to work.

2. People with a learning disability need better support to get into work as well as to take advantage of Apprenticeship and traineeship and supported internship opportunities. We have suggested that Clauses 1-2 be amended to oblige the Secretary of State to report on progress towards increasing the number of people with a learning disability in work and on Apprenticeships.

3. We welcome the aspiration from the Government to halve the disability employment gap. In order to achieve this we believe, as do many others in the sector, that personalised and specialist employment support needs to be in place.

4. Given the fact the vast majority of people with a learning disability are not in work, income from benefits is a real lifeline for many without which they would struggle to make ends meet.

5. We therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to protect Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and its replacement Personal Independence Payment (PIP). DLA was designed to mitigate against the extra costs disabled people face as a result of their impairment and provides invaluable support.

6. However we are very concerned that the Bill legislates to cut a number of working age benefits, which people with a learning disability are disproportionately likely to receive, such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Housing Benefit (HB), Tax Credits and the new Universal Credit.

7. This would have a detrimental impact on people with a learning disability and their families, many of whom are already living in poverty and we therefore are seeking an exemption from the benefit cap and the benefit freeze.

8. In particular Mencap, as does the disability sector as a whole, strongly oppose the cut of £30 a week for new claimants in the ESA Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). Currently there are close to half a million disabled people in the ESA WRAG, 248,040 of whom have a 'Mental and Behavioural Disorders' which includes people with a learning disability.

9. The Government has stated that it believes the £30 is disincentivising disabled people in ESA WRAG from working. This is misleading as these people have been found by an independent assessor as not fit for work.

10. Furthermore no evidence has been presented to back up this assertion. We believe it is unacceptable for the Government to cut benefits for people with a learning disability by £30 a week, with no evidence that doing so will increase work incentives.

11. Combined with predicted further reductions in local government funding, which will place additional pressure on already stretched social care budgets and therefore the amount of social care individuals can receive, many people are telling us they are already extremely anxious and worried about how they will make ends meet and get the support they need.

12. The Bill also legislates for a reduction in social housing rent levels by 1% for the next four years. Mencap is concerned that this will have a negative impact on the provision of supported housing for people with a learning disability and we are supportive of a suggested amendment by Golden Lane Housing (our housing arm) to exempt specialised supported housing.

13. We see this as a starting point however and we would like to see exemption of the wider specified and exempt accommodation sector from the 1% reduction over the next four years. We believe that exempting the wider supported housing sector would ensure that housing provision for those often vulnerable groups who need more specialist accommodation, including people with a learning disability, will not be negatively affected. We therefore encourage the Committee to view the submission from the National Housing Federation on this point.

14. Mencap is also concerned about the proposed change in conditionality for responsible carers under Universal Credit. This would see responsible carers with a child aged 3 or 4 required to look for, and be available for, work. We believe this will disadvantage carers of a disabled child whose needs have not been fully identified before the age of 5 and who, consequently, will not receive the necessary award of DLA that would exempt carers from these new requirements.

15. We are also concerned about the impact on families of disabled children of the proposal to limit Child Tax Credit to 2 children. We believe that where a family includes a disabled child, their claim for Tax Credits or Universal Credit should not be subject to the rule limiting payments of the child element to two children.

16. We agree that it is important to monitor children’s educational attainment in the context of workless households, but this should not be the sole measurement usedd analyse their performance. We advocate additional measures that take into account someone’s progress across a period of time in order to chart a more individual measurement of a child’s development.

Accompanying Impact Assessments and Equality Information

17. Mencap is concerned that there has been no thorough analysis of the impact of the culmination of policy changes on people with a learning disability and their families. This is worrying considering they are disproportionately affected by the Bill’s proposals by virtue of the fact that they more likely to claim benefits.

18. Furthermore data contained within the Equality Information publication seems to simply reinforce the Government’s proposals rather than offering an insight into the impact the Bill is expected to have on protected groups as identified in the Equality Act 2010.

Full employment: reporting obligations (Clause 1)

19. Less than 10% of people with a learning disability known to social services are in work, despite the fact that the majority of people with a learning disability can and want to work. This is compared to a national employment rate of 76% and an overall disability employment rate just below 50%.

20. Furthermore, while national unemployment levels have decreased in recent years, the employment rate for disabled people has remained stubbornly low. Indeed, the Equality Information document shows that there is a 35 percentage point difference between disabled young people aged 18-24 who are NEET and their non-disabled peers, the same difference as existed in 2011.

21. Therefore, while Mencap welcomes the government’s proposals to oblige the Secretary of State to report on progress made towards full employment, we do not believe this will adequately reflect the numerous barriers people with a learning disability face in entering work.

22. We therefore call for a reporting duty of progress towards achieving the Conservative Party Manifesto commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

23. We also call for the data to be collected to be broken down into different impairment groups, to ensure that the specific issues and barriers people experience can be identified and addressed. Through this, we hope to also encourage a wider debate about data collection within the DWP on how to ensure that people with a learning disability can be more easily identified within data sets.

Suggested amendments

Clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert –

(1A) This report must set out the progress which has been made towards full employment across the following groups:

(i) people with a learning disability

(ii) people with autism

(iii) people with mental health problems

(iv) any other underrepresented group in the employment market that the Secretary of State feels requires specific focus

(1B) The Secretary of State must set out what action they will take if insufficient progress is found to have been made.

24. People with a learning disability trying to find, enter and stay in work face a number of barriers. This can include a lack of suitable and available jobs, a lack of appropriate support to find work and a lack of knowledge from employers as to how to support people with a learning disability once they are in work.

25. Many of the barriers are attitudinal and people within the job centre and employers make assumptions about what people can and can’t do. They often don’t take into consideration what people can do with the right personalised support.

26. A number of people have told Mencap that Disability Employment Advisers are often not available at the job centre or do not provide enough support to help people look for work and go through the recruitment process.

27. People with a learning disability require personalised and specialist support to get into and stay in work.

28. In his Budget speech, the Chancellor announced that the Government will provide new funding for additional support to help claimants return to work. This is extremely welcome. The Minister of State for Employment more recently announced new investment to support Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants to find sustainable employment, totalling £60/70m a year in 2017 and rising to £100m a year by 2021.

29. Current back-to-work support for disabled people has also proved ineffective. Job outcomes for disabled people on the Work Programme are low at only 8.7 percent for new ESA claimants, and 4.3 percent for other ESA/Incapacity Benefit customers.

30. Work Choice, the Government’s specialist employment support programme, is ineffectively targeted and offers support to a small number of disabled people with just 17 percent of referred customers claiming ESA . This represents only a small proportion of disabled people who are looking for work and it is unlikely that many people with a learning disability are benefitting from it.

31. If the Government is to be successful in its aim to halve the disability employment gap they will need to develop personalised and tailored employment support to help disabled people to find and stay in work. This should be considered both in the context of the additional funding announced by the Minister for Employment but also in any redesign of Work Choice.

32. For people with a learning disability we know through our own employment services what works.

· Pre-employment support and appropriate training will help people prepare for the work place.

· Specialist support to look for work from someone who understands the barriers people with a learning disability face

· Work trials and placements work well as application and interview processes are often not accessible

· Place and train models have also proved effective and have been used by Mencap’s employment services with positive outcomes.

· Employers should be supported and encouraged to ‘job carve’ roles for people with a learning disability which play to their strengths. For example an employer can look across their organisation and team to see what tasks (administrative tasks for example) might be combined to form a new role.

· Job coaches have a key role to play in supporting the employee. In particular many people need help to understand and prioritise tasks. Access to Work can pay for this but is rarely promoted.

The suggested amendment below is supported by a number of other large disability organisations, notably Mind, National Autistic Society and Scope.

Suggested amendment

Page 1, line 8, at end insert new clause:-

Personalised and Specialist Employment Support

(1) The Secretary of State must make provision for additional personalised and specialist employment support

(2) The forms of personalised and specialist employment support may be specified in guidance

(3) (a) The Secretary of State may make provision under subsection (1) to cities and local areas seeking to improve local disability employment rates

(b) Provision for this may be set out in guidance.

(4) The Secretary of State must issue guidance to support the shaping of a market amongst suppliers and with the purpose of encouraging diversity amongst suppliers in terms of expertise, size, locality and encouraging both profit and not-for-profit organisations.

Apprenticeships reporting obligation (Clause 2)

33. Mencap welcomes the provision to require the Secretary of State to report on the progress made towards the target of 3 million apprenticeships.

34. However, this reporting obligation does not propose that this information is disaggregated. We believe it should be. The 2012 report ‘Creating an Inclusive Apprenticeship Offer’ commissioned by the Government and written by Peter Little OBE showed a concerning decline in the proportion of Apprentices declaring a learning difficulty and/or disability.

35. The proportion had fallen from 11.5% in 2007/8 to 7.7% in 2011/12, with the trend only slightly improving over the last few years (2014/15 – 9.1%).The picture of people with moderate learning disabilities is even bleaker. In 2008/9 2.5% of Apprentices declared a moderate learning difficulty, in 2012/13 this had fallen to 1%.

36. Mencap sees a real need for a more targeted approach towards recording the participation of those with special educational needs and disabilities.

37. Furthermore, other forms of training, such as traineeships and supported internships, which are primarily accessed by people with a learning disability, are not included in the Bill’s reporting obligations.

38. In line with the Government’s aim to halve the disability employment gap we have suggested an amendment which would mean the 3 million Apprenticeships target could only be achieved with a specified proportion of young people with special educational needs. Regulations would lay out further detail.

Suggested amendments

Clause 2, page 1, line 18, at end insert:-

() information about the number of people with special educational needs and/or disabilities entering into apprenticeships, traineeships and supported internships; and

() information about the number of people with Education Health and Care plans entering into apprenticeships, traineeships and supported internships.

Clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert:-

() Regulations may make provision that the ‘apprenticeship target’ can be met only where a specified proportion of apprenticeships are entered into by people with special educational needs and/or disabilities

() The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report setting out how he or she plans to meet the apprenticeship target as it relates to people with special educational needs and/or disabilities

Workless households and educational attainment (Clause 4)

39. Mencap believes it is important to monitor children’s educational attainment, but we stress that this should not be the sole measurement that is employed to analyse their performance at school. Instead, Mencap advocates an additional measure that takes into account someone’s progress across a period of time in order to chart a more individual measurement of their development and to ensure that children at either end of the ability spectrum are not disenfranchised from the process.

40. Mencap also has concerns about the fact that Key Stage 4 is proposed to be the stage at which someone’s educational attainment is to be measured. Many pupils with a learning disability never reach Key Stage 4 due to their educational needs – in fact, only 40% of pupils with moderate learning difficulties are operating at Key Stage 4 by the age of 19. Mencap fears that the imposition of a Key Stage 4 marker, rather than, for example, an age-related marker, may see a large cohort of pupils with a learning disability being exempted from the data collection and reporting process.

Suggested amendments

Clause 4, page 4, line 34, after "educational attainment" insert "and progress made in education";

Clause 4, page 4, line 35, leave out "end of Key Stage 4" and insert "the age of 16"

Clause 4, page 4, line 36, after "educational attainment" insert "and progress made in education"

Clause 4, page 4, line 37, leave out "end of Key Stage 4" and insert "the age of 16"

Clause 4, page 5, line 3, insert new subsection:

(3) The Secretary of State’s interpretation of "educational attainment" should be based on a broad sample of areas within the National Curriculum.

(4) For those settings which do not follow the formal National Curriculum, the Secretary of State will set out how they will report on a child’s "educational attainment" and "progress made in education" in a way that is comparable with the data collected from settings that do follow the formal National Curriculum

Benefit Cap (Clause 7)

41. Mencap welcome the exemption for families with a disabled member receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP). However, many people with a learning disability, particularly those with a mild learning disability, may not be in receipt of DLA/PIP, but will be in receipt of a number of other working age benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Housing Benefit and Tax Credits. They will see a reduction in income due to not being in receipt of DLA/PIP.

42. In addition, people claiming Employment and Support Allowance, a benefit specifically for disabled people and people with health and medical conditions who have been found not fit for work, would also be subject to the cap.

43. We believe that disabled people should be exempted from the benefit cap.

Suggested amendment

Clause 7, Page 9, line 6, at end insert new sub-clause:–

() Households containing members who are disabled under the Equality Act 2010 definition are exempt from the benefit cap

Carers and the benefit cap

44. The benefit cap affects a small but significant number of carers who live in a different ‘benefit household’ i.e. caring for someone termed a ‘non-dependant’ in the benefits system. This is often a parent caring for a disabled adult son or daughter.

Suggested amendment

Clause 7, Page 9, line 6, at end insert new sub-clause:–

() Households containing members who are in receipt of Carers Allowance or who attract the carer element of Universal Credit are exempt from the benefit cap

Assessing the impact of the benefit cap

45. The impact assessment accompanying the Bill contains no detail on the possible impact on disabled people not in receipt of DLA/PIP.

46. We therefore believe the Government should urgently carry out further assessment of the impact on disabled people, carers and their families before the threshold is lowered.

Suggested amendment

Clause 8, page 11, line 29, at end insert new sub-clause:-

() Before lowering the benefit cap threshold the secretary of state should assess the impact of the benefit cap on disabled people, their families and carers and report his or her findings to parliament

Reviewing the impact of the benefit cap annually

47. The suggested amendment below would mean that the Secretary of State must consider the impact on disabled people, carers and their families during the proposed annual review of payment levels.

Suggested amendment

Clause 8, page 10, line 30, at end insert new sub-clause:-

() the impact on disabled people, their families and carers, and

Freeze of certain social security benefits for four tax years (Clause 9)

48. We welcome the exemption of people in receipt of DLA/PIP from the four year benefit freeze starting from 2016/17.

49. However, the bill would freeze other key working age benefits that many disabled people, their carers and families receive, for example JSA and Housing Benefit.

50. The basic rate of Employment and Support Allowance, a benefit specifically for people who have been found not fit for work would also be subject to the freeze. While the Government has exempted the support component element from the freeze (around £35 per week) the basic rate of the ESA payment (£73.10) is not.

51. We believe this is inconsistent with the Conservative manifesto commitment which stated (p28): ‘We will freeze working age benefits for two years from April 2016, with exemptions for disability and pensioner benefits – as at present’.

Suggested amendment

Clause 9, Page 11, line 33, at end insert new sub-clause:-

() People who are disabled under the Equality Act 2010 definition are exempt from the freeze

() People who are in receipt of carers allowance

Freeze of certain tax credit amounts for four tax years (Clause 9)

52. Disabled people, carers and their families are often in receipt of Tax Credits. As set out above we believe that people with a learning disability should be exempted from the benefits freeze.

Suggested amendment

Clause 10, Page 12, line 31, at end insert new sub-clause:-

() People who are disabled under the Equality Act 2010 definition are exempt from the freeze

Child Tax Credits (Clause 11 and 12)

53. Mencap is concerned about the potential impact on families with a disabled child of the proposal to limit Child Tax Credit to two children. This is because of the extra costs families of disabled children have to meet and the high levels of poverty they experience..

54. While we welcome the Disabled Child Element being retained, we believe that where a family includes a disabled child, their claim for Tax Credits or Universal Credit should not be subject to the rule limiting payments of the child element to two children.

55. We also seek urgent clarification about the status of the Child Disability Addition under Universal Credit. Please see the benefit freeze section for more detail.

Suggested amendment

Clause 11, page 13, line 12, insert new subsection:

(5) Persons are exempted from Subsection 4 (3B) if any child or qualifying young person is disabled including, but not limited to, those persons in receipt of the disability element of child tax credit

Clause 12, page 13, line 23, at end insert –

(1B) The provisions in (1A) do not apply if any child or qualifying person is disabled including, but not limited to, those persons in receipt of the disabled child element of Universal Credit

Employment and support allowance: work-related activity component

56. The Bill legislates to reduce the amount of support new claimants receive within the ESA WRAG from £102.15 a week to £73.10, from April 2017 – a reduction of £29.05 per week. This is despite the fact that the WRAG is specifically there to provide support for those disabled people who are assessed as being not fit for work.

57. Currently there are 492,180 disabled people within the ESA WRAG. The largest group are those with 'Mental and Behavioural Disorders' (248,040) which include people with a learning disability.

58. The Government’s impact assessment states that the policy intention of removing the ESA WRAG payment is to ‘remove the financial incentives that could otherwise discourage claimants from taking steps back to work.’

59. No evidence has been presented to back up this assertion and we believe it is unacceptable for the Government to cut benefits for sick and disabled people by nearly £30 a week with no evidence that doing so will increase work incentives.

60. Like the other members of the Disability Benefits Consortium (60 disability charities) we are seeking deletion of this clause. The DBC submission contains more detail on this area.

Suggested amendment

Leave out clause 13, page 14

Universal Credit: work related requirement (Clause 15)

61. Mencap is concerned about the implications of the proposed change in conditionality for responsible carers under Universal Credit. This would see responsible carers of a child aged 3 or 4 being allocated to the All Work Related Requirements group and requirements placed on them to look for, and be available for, work. Currently, carers are exempted from the All Work Related Requirements group if they have a child in receipt of the highest or middle rate care component of DLA.

62. The rationale for this proposal is based on the success of recent policy changes requiring carers of children aged 5 to make a return to work. However, Mencap does not believe it is possible to equate parents of children aged 3 and parents of children aged 5. We believe that there a significant differences between the 2 ages that means the government’s assumption is flawed.

63. One pertains to the involvement of childcare at age 3, something which is not relevant to those at age 5, as they access primary education. The government’s proposals in the Childcare Bill to offer 30 hours of free childcare could aid this, but Mencap does not believe the policy in this Bill properly accounts for the barriers faced by families of disabled children when accessing this provision. For example, many providers under the 3 and 4 year old offer are not able to meet the needs of children with more complex needs and the additional costs of childcare for disabled children can limit the number of hours they can actually access. The combination of this could severely compromise a parent’s ability to meet the conditions of looking for work.

64. Mencap welcomes the fact that carers of children in receipt of the highest or middle rate care component of DLA are exempted from the All Work Related Requirements group. However, official DWP figures show that there are just 53,320 claimants of DLA for children aged 0-5, a figure that jumps to 172,650 for children aged 5-11. There is therefore a clear difference between access to DLA for those under the age of 5 and for those over that age which results in a large number of disabled young children under 5 not receiving DLA but then going on to claim it when they are older.

65. We are therefore concerned that many carers of severely disabled children will be subject to the aforementioned conditions – and associated sanctions – when it will later be shown to have been unrealistic to expect them to do so, due to a successful claim for DLA being made. Mencap believes this policy must be changed to reflect the fact that a disabled child’s needs may be harder to identify under the age of 5, so using DLA as a basis for exemption of carers is not sufficient.

66. Mencap therefore believes that the government should consider using additional criteria to determine whether someone is caring for a severely disabled child that goes beyond a sole reliance on them claiming DLA.

Suggested amendment

Clause 15, page 14, line 43, at end insert new sub-clauses:-

() The provisions in this section do not apply to those responsible carers of disabled children aged 3 or 4

() The Secretary of State must lay regulations determining what a disabled child is for the purpose of this subsection and may include, but will not be limited to,

(a) those children in receipt of an Education, Health and Care Plan,

(b) those children in receipt of a Statement of Special Educational Needs, (c) those children identified by their local authority as having special educational needs,

(d) those children with child in need status,

(e) children meeting the definition of disabled under the Equality Act 2010.

Reductions in social housing rents (Clause 19)

67. The Bill legislates for a reduction in social housing rent levels by 1% for the next four years. Mencap is concerned that this will have a negative impact on the provision of specialist supported housing for people with a learning disability, including pioneering social investment initiatives by providers to help people with a learning disability live independently.

68. For example, Mencap’s housing arm, Golden Lane Housing, have successfully pioneered a£10m bond that bought accommodation for over 100 people. Such bonds rely on investors receiving a return on their investment at a certain level. The Welfare Reform and Work Bill with its announcement of a reduction in social rents of 1% over 4 years calls into question the feasibility of these projects and their attractiveness to investors, on which such schemes rely.

69. By jeopardising the viability of supported housing projects, the reduction in social housing rents inadvertently also jeopardises other government policy objectives, such as the Department of Health and NHS England’s Transforming Care programme, which aims to ensure people with a learning disability can leave in-patient units and live in the community with appropriate support.

70. Work previously commissioned by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) has estimated its investment in supported housing results in a net cost benefit of around £199 million per year for people with a learning disability; this is £6,764 per person per year. [1]

71. In light of this and the negative impact we believe the 1% reduction will have on the availability of suitable housing for people with a learning disability in the community, Mencap believes that Golden Lane Housing’s proposal that specialised supported housing be exempt should be considered as a useful starting point to begin debate on this area. An amendment to achieve this is set out below.

Suggested amendment

Clause 20, page 20, after line 5 insert –

(e) the accommodation is specialised supported housing fitting certain criteria as defined in the Homes and Communities Agency’s regulatory framework for social housing in England set out in the Rent Standard Guidance April 2015.

72. However, we would like to see exemption of the wider specified and exempt accommodation sector from the 1% reduction over the next four years. We believe that exempting the wider supported housing sector would ensure that housing provision for those often vulnerable groups who need more specialist accommodation, including people with a learning disability, will not be negatively affected. We would encourage the committee to read across to the National Housing Federation submission on this.

September 2015


[1] Financial benefits of investment in specialist housing for vulnerable and older people, Frontier Economics for HCA (2010)

Prepared 11th September 2015