On Friday 17 January, the Government’s Joint Work and Health Unit closed their consultation for the Work, Health and Disability green paper, Improving Lives.
The green paper consultation focused on how to increase support for disabled people to enter employment, work-related benefit assessments, and support employers to employ more disabled people.
Over the past two months Sense, along with the people we support, have been involved with responding to the consultation to make sure the views of people who are deafblind, have sensory impairments or complex needs, are taken into account in the Government’s next steps to improve disability employment.
This has included collecting views via an online survey, hosting a consultation event with five other sensory loss charities¹ and with people who are deafblind, d/Deaf, and blind, and attending the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Young Disabled People Forum with two of our campaigners who are deafblind, to give their views on how the outcomes of the consultation can help young disabled people into employment.
Barriers to employment remain significant for disabled people
The response and insight throughout the consultation has been eye-opening. From struggling to access the specialist employment support needed, to going the extra mile to convince employers of their skills and talents, people with sensory impairments or complex needs face a multitude of barriers to help realise their aspirations, whether for progressing in their careers, moving toward employment or participating in their communities.
Sense listened to these experiences and based our response on what people who are deafblind, have sensory impairment or complex needs told us needs to happen to best support them to realise their goals.
We’ve included in our response recommendations that we believe will move the Government toward their aim of providing “appropriate, personalised and integrated support…which focuses on what they [disabled people] can do, builds on their talents and addresses their individual needs”².
What needs to happen now?
It was clear from our consultation that to support all disabled people to realise their potential, safeguards for health and wellbeing are as important as creating opportunities to seek employment.
Sense is urging the Government to avoid placing any mandatory recommendations on people in the Support group of ESA, and continuing to push for the reversal of the ESA WRAG cut planned for April.
We were told that where people with sensory impairments or complex needs do access employment support, however it is often not specialist enough and fails to meet their needs. We’re worried the green paper does not address this gap in support and that this is set to increase through a lack of resources and specialism for Jobcentre Plus work coaches. We’ve said that:
- The Government should review the overall resources for employment support to map out where the gaps are and who is most likely to be left behind in terms of access.
- It should be a requirement for work coaches to undergo training on broad specialisms, such as sensory impairment, as a minimum. Disability Employment Advisers should also specialise by disability type and complete condition-specific training, including in complex conditions such as deafblindness, to support work coaches. Training should be led by or involve disabled people.
Support in the workplace
People with sensory impairments or complex needs told us that Access to Work and reasonable adjustments provide vital support when they meet their needs. We want to see:
- Access to Work assessors should have specialist understanding of the individual’s condition, such as deafblindness for people who are deafblind.
- The DWP should conduct research into how best to support employers to make reasonable adjustments. This should include exploring whether to set up support in the form of information and a helpline as part of the employer ‘one-stop-shop’ initiative.
A key issue was the inability of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to meaningfully assess people’s employment support needs. We believe:
- The Government should urgently look to reform the WCA so that it more accurately assesses the barriers faced by disabled people to enter employment.
Support for employers
We’re encouraged to see the Government is considering how employers can better support disabled people into and in employment. We found much more needs to be done to breakdown preconceptions of the abilities of people with sensory impairments and complex needs. We want to see:
- The Government should develop and implement a coordinated campaign to raise employers’ awareness of the abilities and potential of disabled people, including those with complex needs.
- Employers should be required to have accessible recruitment processes, especially where they are involved in the Government’s Disability Confident scheme. The scheme should have a robust monitoring mechanism, which should involve disabled people, to build trust and confidence in the scheme.
We will be working with the Government to ensure these views are considered in the decisions being made about how to support disabled people with work and health.
¹ The National Deaf Children’s Society, the Royal National Institute for Blind people, the Tomas Pocklington Trust, the Royal Association for Deaf people, and Action on Hearing Loss.
² The Joint Work and Health Unit’s Work, Health and Disability green paper: Improving Lives.