From education to employment

What steps does the Government need to take in order to halve the disability employment gap?

Nicola Whiteman, Senior Policy Officer, Papworth Trust

Here are Papworth Trust’s top ten recommendations…

  1. We recommend an automatic entry route back onto Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for claimants who have fallen out of work within a year
  2. We recommend personalised support focusing on what people can do. For some this will be health and condition management, for other this will be employment support.
  3. We recommend a clear communication route between ESA Support Group and Jobcentre Plus (JCP) / employment support provision with reassurance that benefits won’t be affected.
  4. We believe that separating the Work Capability Assessment into a) financial and b) employment support would help drive positive attitudinal change towards the process.
  5. We recommend a pilot system to test data sharing. Claimants much be given the chance to opt-in/opt-out of any future system.
  6. We recommend intense training for JCP work coaches – covering how conditions affect people in different ways and what local support is on offer.
  7. We recommend JCPs trial co-location with other Government bodies and third sector organisation in their local area.
  8. We recommend Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) / JCP develops an assessment tool that more accurately reflects a person’s barriers to work
  9. We recommend fundamental reform, and possible re-branding, of the current Disability Confident and Access to Work schemes.
  10. We recommend the Government looks at the role of procurement in closing the disability employment gap.

Papworth Trust believes unequivocally that for a disabled person to live as independently as possible, a job is a key driver to making this happen.

Of course, not every disabled person can work, but for those people who can and want to work, the State should do all it can to work with employers to put ladders of opportunity in place so disabled people can fulfil their employment potential.

The Government’s Green Paper was overdue but welcome. It signalled a real intention to address the issues disabled people tell us they face when entering employment. Ahead of our Green Paper response Papworth Trust ran a survey on the likely effects of the proposed reforms to disability employment – the types of employment support people would find useful, attitudes to JCP and data sharing, and on the separating of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The results made for interesting reading. Our survey showed that only 1 in 3 felt that there was currently enough work and health support for people in the Employment and Support Allowance Support (ESA) Support Group. Interestingly, people who were claiming ESA and not currently in touch with JCP told us they didn’t know where to go for help and support regarding their health and work opportunities.

Papworth Trust passionately believes that no-one in the Support Group should be written off. This is a fundamental and the Government must ensure that support is properly personalised to the individual and focussed on what they can do. We recognise this is a shift, not just in policy terms but also in the culture of JCP and DWP as a whole. There has to be a joined-up approach to cultural change and policy reform.

This is even more essential when we consider that for some disabled people the support they will want or need may be health and condition management support, for others they will find light touch employment support beneficial. It is clear that a ‘one size fits all’ approach won’t work.

When we’re supporting people into employment who have been out of work for a long time, the barrier to work stops being solely about a disability or impairment, about whether you can get over the working hours or benefits threshold, or even about what reasonable adjustments your prospective employer can make. Instead the barrier is invisible. It is psychological. It is more often than not, in Papworth Trust’s experience, encapsulated in four letters. Fear.

The fear of working, the fear around lacking confidence, and fear of what happens to my benefits if work doesn’t work out.

The biggest fear the disabled people we support tell us about is the fear of having spent two years getting onto ESA only to then gamble this away with a job that might not work out. It is entirely reasonable.

If you’re trying to work out how you can support your family, keep a roof over your head and food on the table, why would you take that risk of losing all of your ESA, particularly if in the back of your mind you’re thinking about the consequences of falling out of employment quickly after coming off the benefit.

At Papworth Trust, we believe there is a simple policy fix that will help alleviate that fear of trying work. We would like to see the Government introduce a fast track route back to ESA or even a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) recognising that a person’s conditions might have improved, if they fall out of work within a year of leaving the benefit. This would give people a certain amount of security that if they take a job, they don’t risk being up in a worse position than they are currently in. It would also help the Government to drive up the number of disabled people in employment.

We need to be mindful that people have a job in the context of what else is happening in their lives. Do they have a home, or indeed do they live in one that is appropriate to their needs? We know that people with an unmet need for accessible housing are 4 times more likely to be unemployed or not seeking work. Do they have access to transport? Alongside a perceived lack of job opportunities, we know disabled people see ‘difficulty with transport’ as one of their biggest barriers to work. We need to make all the pieces of the jigsaw fit together.

No one is pretending that the ambition of supporting more disabled people into work is easy, but there are quick fixes to a complex system that could easily be introduced. We think it would make a big difference.

Nicola Whiteman, Senior Policy Officer, Papworth Trust

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