The Department for Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, gave a speech on Monday in which he spoke about increasing the number of ill and disabled people in work. In the speech, he argued that work is good for our health and that the current Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) system divides people into those that can work and those who cannot work; whereas many people could do some work if they were given the right support.
The Secretary of State also said that he wanted to halve the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people by reforming the Incapacity Benefit assessment system and improving the levels of support for jobless disabled people who wanted to work.
However, some experts have criticised the Secretary of State’s speech for its lack of detail on how the government’s plans would be achieved. Some said that its aims to get more than a million more people with a disability or long-term illness into work will require changes in practice and attitudes on the part of jobcentres and employers.
Comments from charities
In response to the speech, Sophie Corlett, Director of External Relations at Mind, said: “We would welcome any move by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to genuinely improve the support given to help people with mental health problems back to work. The current system is failing this group, with only about 8 per cent of people who are supported by the benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) being helped into work through the Government’s flagship Work Programme. We’ve long been calling for a complete overhaul of the system to take into account and address the barriers that people with mental health problems face in getting into and staying in jobs.
“We have been calling on the DWP to address these issues for a number of years and will be keen to work with Ministers to improve the support available, but only if they are serious about making the huge changes necessary to fix this broken system. They need to listen to the challenges people with mental health problems face in finding and retaining work, and create support that helps to overcome these challenges, rather than simply placing more pressure on people to find work.”
Leonard Cheshire Disability
Andy Cole, Campaigns Director at Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: “Any measures that support disabled people into work are welcome. The Government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap over this Parliament will mean more than a million disabled people will be better off. It is vital that any changes actively help those who are able to work find meaningful employment, but ensure that those who are not, are given the time they need to recover without worrying about cuts to their financial support.
“The fit-for-work test is not working for disabled people. Too often those who are too ill to work are wrongly being found fit to do so. And our own research found that as many as 7 in 10 people going through the assessments said it had a negative impact on their health. We would welcome working with the Government to ensure that any new assessment provides a better experience for disabled people.”
Disability Rights UK
Disability Rights UK said the Government needs to: “Completely change employment support for disabled people and employers, so it’s personalised and enables people to work when they can – for instance, people with fluctuating conditions who can work some but not all of the time; there are ways of doing this and it makes sense for people to work some of the time rather than never.
“Sustain ESA benefits for disabled people who do not secure jobs. The idea of cutting ESA benefits for people on the Work Related Activity Group (announced in the budget, for claimants from 2017) is a recipe for driving more disabled people into poverty.”
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Helen Bernard, Programme Manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, commented: “Iain Duncan Smith’s speech did not set out detailed policy reforms but some fear that it may be a precursor to more cuts in benefits or other support for disabled people. It is important that any further changes are designed and implemented in a fair way that has credibility with disabled people. But if the speech is the start of a real drive to change how employers act and give better support for disabled people, this could be a step towards more people being able to get jobs and stay in work, which could have a positive impact on their health as well as reducing poverty.”
Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive of Scope said: “Changes in approach from the state and employers were required to give disabled people the tailored support they need to find work. Right now this support is just not effective enough.”
Richard Kramer, Deputy Chief Executive of deafblind charity Sense, said: “The fault line is often not the benefits system but ensuring that we dismantle the many barriers that prevent people getting opportunities to work in the first place, whether that is negative attitudes from employers, failure to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace, reduced support from Access to Work and inaccessible transport."
Turn2us commented: “The most vulnerable people are facing the ordeal of cuts brought in by welfare reforms and climbing living costs that show no sign of slowing down. Further welfare reform will undoubtedly add to the concerns to those that are already struggling financially.
"We advise people unsure of what support is available to visit www.turn2us.org.uk to check their latest benefits entitlements, as well as making themselves aware of what additional support might be available through charitable grants.”
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
A DWP spokesman said: “This isn’t a policy announcement. It is the start of a conversation.”
Publication date: 26 August 2015