Think tank, Reform, has produced a report, titled ‘Stepping up, breaking barriers’, calling for ‘significant reform’ to disability employment opportunities and concludes that ‘reform to date has been inadequate and progress woeful’.
At first glance it seems hard to disagree with Reform’s conclusion that so far the Government’s progress in helping disabled people back into work has been ‘woeful”. After all they did promise to halve the Disability Employment Gap by 2020 and the reality is in the last year the gap has widened to 34%.
Unfortunately, as with the previous two reports in this series, I have grave misgivings about how they suggest this would be addressed.
Reform’s report suggests that the 2.5 million working age claimants on incapacity-related benefits should receive the same financial support as non-disabled jobseekers, ignoring the extra costs disabled people face by virtue of their disability, and the associated poverty they experience. Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty because of the extra costs they face.
This approach echoes the Government’s justification of their cuts in ESA WRAG support in the 2016 Welfare Reform Act, saying that sick and disabled people would be ‘incentivised’ by these cuts. It’s clear what is being implied from this approach and that is that sick and disabled people don’t need or deserve this extra support; that they are ‘shirkers’ and ‘scroungers’.
I reject this characterisation of disabled people and suggest the report authors sit in on some of my surgeries or get out to meet with disabled people a bit more.
For those disabled people who are desperate to get back to work, the Government’s ‘black box’ approach to the Work Programme has been an abject failure. Although a local approach to employment support interventions is a positive step forward, to suggest we should just repackage the Work Programme locally is a real concern.
I would like to see how more specialist interventions for disabled people, such as Work Choice, which performed slightly better than the Work Programme, might be adapted locally. But there was little if anything said about the wider support environment to help disabled people into work. For example, what about addressing the cuts to Access to Work? Or attitudes of employers? Why has there been such poor take up of Disability Confident?
The Tories must stop letting down disabled people and make good on the promise they made to halve the disability employment gap by 2020.
Read Reform’s, ‘Stepping up, breaking barriers: Transforming employment outcomes for disabled people’, July 2016 report here.
Read my speech on the disability employment gap in June here.