Improving Lives

The Government has published a Green Paper consultation document, ‘Improving Lives’, on changes to employment support for disabled people. I have worked on this policy area for a number of years and am pleased to see improvements to benefit assessments included in the consultation. I called for them in 2010 as co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium and held a debate on them this year in parliament.

The Green Paper has been delayed due to the changes in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) ministerial team since Iain Duncan Smith resigned to protest over his own benefit cuts for disabled people. The Tory manifesto in 2015 included a commitment to ‘halve the disability employment gap’ in this parliament. This aim looks like it will not now be met sadly – and the Green Paper holds no information on if/how the target will be monitored, reported on or met.

The Lib Dem/Tory Coalition axed 20% of Disability Employment Advisors (DEAs) in JobCentre Plus (JCP) and the Green Paper commits to reinstating some of that lost resource. Currently, there are fewer than one DEA for every 600 disabled people seeking help to get back into work.

One not well known Government scheme to help disabled people into employment is the Access to Work initiative. It helps disabled people and employers cover the higher costs of being in work – eg helping meet transport needs if public transport is not an option, or providing accessible software. The Green Paper commits to extending Access to Work to 60,000 people by 2020. Access to Work is helping fewer people in 2015/16 than it was in Labour’s last full year in office so any boost to the initiative should be welcomed – even if DWP have not outlined how the uplift will be secured.

Ministers have also claimed that some young disabled people will be supported into work experience schemes. Sadly, little detail is provided on this and it sounds suspiciously like a rehash of the 2013 announcement that Access to Work would help meet costs for young disabled people who begin an internship. DWP suggested £8 million would be provided form that year but have refused to state if or how the additional funding has been used.

The green paper announces £115 million for employment support for disabled people. This represents less than 5% of the cuts disabled people have experienced to just two benefits and a tiny fraction of the estimated £28 billion in cuts imposed on disabled people by the Coalition according to the Resolution Foundation. Disabled people are losing more than £2.4 billion in cuts to Disability Living Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance alone to put the Government’s proposal into perspective.

You can watch my exchange with Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green on the Green Paper yesterday here: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/20a8bef5-ab08-455c-9183-7aecd54e1ea2?in=17:07:26&out=17:08:20

 

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