Select Committee on Work and Pensions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Disability Benefits Consortium (OP 04)


  The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) is a coalition of some 500 disability organisations of and for disabled people, including the British Council of Disabled People (BCODP), Disability Alliance, Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR). Action for Blind People, Age Concern, Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults (MENCAP), Mind, Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), Scope and Sense. The DBC had drawn on the experience of its member organisations to inform this response.


  1.  There has been substantial research analysis of the first steps towards an integrated approach to work and benefits, and we shall therefore keep our response brief, and focus on a limited range of key points. These points are drawn from the published research and from our own experience as organisations providing both work-related programmes and welfare benefits advice. The lessons from ONE for Jobcentre Plus are important in terms of seeking to establish for the latter trust based on the competence of staff in advising on benefit rights and benefit implications of work.


  2.  The initial Government expectation was that the same staff would be experts in employment and training and welfare rights, and it is already clear that this may be an unrealistic expectation. It may also be unrealistic to expect the same staff to give equal weight to maximising job preparation and job search and maximising benefit entitlement. The system seems to work where people with different expertise are working closely together.

  3.  It was the experience 30 years ago with apparently integrated systems such as those in the USA and Denmark that in practice there was early streaming into those with work potential and those without work potential. If, as is likely, the same thing happens here, it is important that the streaming should be done on a rational and consistent basis; and that people should not suffer unnecessary delay in either getting benefits or getting work-related help while the sorting out is taking place. The more that goals on the work front are diversified away from full-time paid employment towards a variety of occupations including voluntary and therapeutic work, the less the need for a black and white work and not work streaming.

  4.  Staff must be set goals which support rather than undermine the balance of effort between securing employment and securing benefit entitlement. The two things are not inconsistent, in as much as willingness to make the effort and take the risks to work is influenced by entitlement to in-work benefits. It would be easy to set goals relating exclusively to work placements. We want to see in addition goals relating to speedy and accurate determination of benefit entitlement, and implementation of awards. People getting their full benefit rights is more immediately important than people beginning the journey [back] to work.


  5.  Special arrangements on the part of employers and special expertise on the part of disabled people mean that it is in theory possible for almost everybody to "work", irrespective of the nature and degree of their disability. There are people in paid employment who, if they presented themselves as candidates for a job, would be turned down out of hand as unemployable. There are people who have fallen foul of tighter conditions for access to incapacity benefit, but who are regarded as unemployable by the employment services at the same time as they are regarded as capable of work by the benefits services. There has to be an approach within any integrated system based on the two questions: (a) is it realistic to expect this person to work?; (b) if it is unrealistic, does this person nevertheless want to work, and can we help them fulfil their dream?

  6.  Despite the well established evidence of lack of fraud among Incapacity Benefit claimants, the not very well founded belief that 1 million disabled people want to work and could work has encouraged the expectation of quick hits in terms of switching from welfare to work. All our experience suggests that substantial numbers of people who become disabled while working could be helped to stay in employment, without disproportionate cost, but that supporting into employment disabled people who have never worked is likely to be relatively slow and relatively expensive. For some people with severe learning disability, the transition period may last for years, and then result in the conclusion that the right long-term answer for that person is actually therapeutic work while on benefit—and not making the change to earnings with tax credits. Outcome targets which include voluntary work, training, work experience, therapeutic and part-time work, are all wholly valid for particular people at particular times, and for some people indefinitely. It would be unfair on claimants and on staff to make full-time paid employment the only goal.

  7.  It is not enough to be aware of disability. It is necessary to be aware of the implications of the particular disability. Commonly misunderstood disability issues include:

    —  The fluctuations with circumstances or medication of someone with a history of mental illness.

    —  The difficulty some people with learning disabilities experience in pacing themselves or in adjusting to new situations or new relationships.

    —  The distinction between someone who is well-adjusted to visual impairment and someone who is still coming to terms with loss of sight.

    —  The inability of someone with advancing neurological impairment to take on extra work when just maintaining stability with an existing job.

    —  The social impact of hearing impairment, and the employment implications of increasing social isolation.

  8.  Alan is a young man with learning disabilities who at present works one day a week. He has good social skills. His speech is quite fluent though not easy to understand. He is physically fit. It would be easy to assess him as capable of full-time work. His "hidden" disability is that he cannot pace himself. When working, gardening, or running, he will keep going until he drops. An employer would have to cope with an employee who works flat out and then collapses. Most employers will not be able to do that, and Alan's realistic prospects of more than a minimal amount of paid employment are poor.


  9.  We would advocate:

    (i)  Ready access to expertise in particular disabilities and combinations of disabilities;

    (ii)  Ready access to disability benefits expertise;

    (iii)  Outcome targets which include prompt access to the right rates of relevant benefits;

    (iv)  Continued exploration of the most flexible use of combinations of benefits, tax credits and earnings, and in particular maintenance of the therapeutic earnings limit and restoration of the real value of the Income Support earnings disregard (at least £30 a week);

    (v)  A long-term approach to supporting the employment goals of severely disabled people who want to work—including continuing support where this is needed.

Brian McGinnis


September 2001

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