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


Memorandum submitted by Disability Rights Commission (OP 07)


  The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) is concerned at the high rates of unemployment and economic inactivity of disabled people.

  We believe that the underlying reasons are complex and relate to the many barriers—financial , physical, legal and attitudinal—faced by disabled people at all stages in relation to the labour market.

  Jobcentre Plus needs to understand these barriers and use this knowledge to provide a service which enables disabled people to overcome these barriers, for example by ensuring that disabled people are aware of all possible sources of financial support both in work and out of work. Disabled people need to feel confident that Jobcentre Plus is there as a source of support and does not present its own barriers.

  The DRC has two main concerns about the practical operation of Jobcentre Plus:

  1.  That the element of discretion given to staff in determining entitlement to incapacity benefit and other benefits under the new regulations does not give rise to discrimination against disabled people and a reduced right to those benefits;

  2.  That the service and the offices are fully accessible to disabled people.

  IN addition the DRC believes that Jobcentre Plus has a strong role to play in supporting the rights of disabled people under current and future legislation.


  1.  The Disability Rights Commission was created by the Disability Rights Commission Act (DRCA) 1999. Section II of the DRCA imposes the following duties on the Commission:

    (a)  To work towards the elimination of discrimination against disabled persons;

    (b)  To promote the equalisation of opportunities for disabled persons;

    (c)  To take such steps as is considered appropriate with a view to encouraging good practice in the treatment of disabled persons; and

    (d)  To keep under review the workings of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 and this Act.

  2.  The DRC wishes to bring about a society in which all disabled people can participate fully as equal citizens.


  3.  The Disability Rights Commission notes the alarmingly high rates of unemployment and economic inactivity amongst disabled people. The facts speak for themselves:

    —  The Labour Force Survey (Summer 2000) show that the economic activity rate for people of working age is 52 per cent for disabled people compared to 86 per cent for non-disabled people.

    —  The unemployment rate for disabled people is around twice that for non-disabled people of working age—9.5 per cent compared to 5.0 per cent.

    —  Disabled people are not only more likely than non-disabled people to be unemployed; if they are unemployed they are more likely to be so long-term.

    —  The proportion of non-disabled people who move into employment is about six times that of disabled people. The difference is still four-fold, allowing for the fact that some disabled people cannot, or do not wish to move into work.

    —  One third of disabled people who move into work are out of work again by the following year, compared to one fifth of non-disabled entrants.

    —  One in six workers lose their jobs during the first year after becoming disabled.

  The statistics above use International Labour Organisation (ILO) definitions of economically active (those in employment and those unemployed but seeking and available for employment) and economically inactive (those who are either not available for work, or not seeking it, or both).

  4.  The reasons behind the high rates of economic inactivity and the high rates of unemployment amongst disabled people are complex. The DRC's own analysis has identified barriers to be overcome by disabled people at every stage in the process of being available for work, gaining sufficient education and training, looking for work, gaining and retaining work and career progression. These barriers may be in the general environment or within specific institutions such as colleges or the workplace. The barriers may be physical, financial, legal or attitudinal—or any combination of these.


  5.  Given the very real problems experienced by disabled people in gaining and retaining work and the consequent high rates of economic inactivity and unemployment, the DRC was disappointed to hear the Government's recent announcement on Incapacity Benefit, in which the impression was given that Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants are allowed to claim this benefit indefinitely without review opening up the possibility of fraud. This impression is not borne out by the facts which show that:

    —  The majority of IB claimants are subject to regular review.

    —  All new claims for IB are subject to review at some point between the time span of six months and five years.

    —  As few as 0.5 per cent of IB cases reviewed in a recent Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) report (DWP Analytical Services Division 2001) were found to be fraudulent giving rise to an annual overpayment of less than £19 million out of a total expenditure of £6.3 billion.

  6.  Disabled people and their organisations are understandably concerned that this negative view of disabled people claiming IB has been translated into the policy and practice of Work Focused Interviews (WFIs). Under the new Social Security (Work focussed Interviews) Regulation 2001 attendance at WFIs has become a condition of benefit for Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA), Invalid Care Allowance (ICA) and Bereavement Benefit. The WFI introduces the opportunity for discretion on the part of Jobcentre Plus staff as to whether or not an interview may be waived or deferred, for example on the grounds of ill-health. The implication of this is that discretion of Jobcentre Plus staff is now a factor in the delivery of, and eligibility for, certain benefits namely IB, SDA, ICA and Bereavement Benefit. The DRC can see the potential here for discriminatory attitudes and practices to directly affect disabled people's rights to these benefits.


  7.  The Disability Rights Commission has already voiced its concern, in a series of parliamentary questions (01/6191-6194) about access for disabled people to Jobcentre Plus offices and the training of staff in these offices, some of whom will be carrying out WFIs. The DRC, with its statutory powers to review and enforce the Disability Discrimination Act, would like to see best practice implemented within Jobcentre Plus offices to ensure that these offices meet and go beyond requirements under Part III of the DDA. Without these standards of access to offices and standards of good practice within interviews being met, Jobcentre Plus offices will become another barrier to disabled people obtaining the benefits they are entitled to and/or moving closer to the labour market.

  8.  The DRC would like to see Jobcentre Plus offices undergoing access and service audits to ensure the best possible standards of access to buildings and good practice on the part of Jobcentre Plus staff.


  9.  Instead of Jobcentre Plus being seen as a barrier to rights or opportunities by disabled people, the DRC would like Jobcentre Plus to offer support to disabled people to enable them to overcome the barriers outlined earlier—physical, financial and attitudinal and legal.

  10.  Advice should be offered on all benefits and other financial support available to disabled people in full-time work, in part-time work, in education and training, when looking for work and to those unable to work. There is evidence that disabled people are unaware of a range of benefits and financial support, such as DLA, tax credits and Access to Work.

  11.  Advice should be offered on practical support available to disabled people in all positions in relation to the labour market.

  12.  There is a role to play for Jobcentre Plus in helping to break down barriers, by monitoring discrimination on the grounds of disability amongst employers, training providers and other agencies who have obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act (Part II or Part III), the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 and any other future disability equality legislation. Jobcentre Plus should assist in informing clients of their rights under existing legislation and should inform them of how to get further help if they feel they have been discriminated against.

  13.  It is the view of the DRC that Jobcentre Plus should also use its links with local employers to promote duties under Part II of the DDA and promote good practice. In addition, Jobcentre Plus could raise awareness of sources of support for disabled people amongst local employers, such as the Access to Work scheme.

Monica Kreel

DDA Policy Team

October 2001

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