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Memo

By Jeremy Kelly,2014-07-11 20:15
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Memo ...

Welfare Reform Bill

    RADAR position paper

RADAR

    1. RADAR is the UK’s leading disability rights campaigning organisation and a

    network of pan-disability organisations and individuals of and for disabled

    people. Our vision is of a society where human difference is routinely

    anticipated, expertly accommodated and positively celebrated.

2. This RADAR position paper has been prepared in response to the

    Government’s Welfare Reform Bill.

Welfare Reform

    3. RADAR broadly supports the Government’s proposals to reform Incapacity

    Benefits and substantively increase the support that disabled people receive to

    gain and retain employment. For too long it has been the case that those

    claiming Incapacity Benefit for two or more years are more likely to retire or die

    than find employment.

4. RADAR believes that for human rights and equality to be realised for all

    disabled people, the idea that disabled people cannot work must be eradicated.

    If these welfare reforms do not create a situation whereby all disabled people

    are aware of and have access to support to find work, they will have failed.

5. Supporting disabled people to find work is not just about training and assistance

    with job-seeking activities. Welfare reform must understand and tackle the

    discrimination that disabled people face in the workplace. This discrimination is

    evident through the recruitment process, the adjustments offered and lack of

    equality in the workplace. The Welfare Reform Bill needs to explicitly tackle

    these issues.

Regulations

6. RADAR is concerned that the Bill relies too much on regulations. This provides

    flexibility, which is desirable, but also a lack of detail and an avoidance of the

    difficult issues that welfare reform inevitably entails, which is not. The reforms

    will therefore be reliant on a changing political climate both within and without

    Parliament and Jobcentre Plus, and as such may be very fragile without a principled Welfare Reform Act to fall back on.

    7. To give an example, Clause 10 allows regulations to impose a work-focused

    health-related assessment as a condition of continuing to be entitled to the full amount of benefit and the extent to which the benefit may be reduced. Firstly, it should be highlighted that the Green Paper only detailed conditionality in reference to work-focused interviews (see paragraph 23). Secondly, it is the case that in the current political climate this may not be used at all, but in the future regulations could be put in place where an individual is required to undertake an unlimited number of assessments in a relatively short space of time and, if they do not comply, have their eligibility for benefit removed entirely.

    Benefits as a gateway

    8. The purpose of welfare reform must be to create a situation where the new

    Employment and Support Allowance is a gateway to employment, rather than a destination in its own right.

    9. This will only be possible if those on the higher, support component of ESA are

    not labelled as ‘cannot work’ in the assessment process. If they are, there will be no encouragement for them to undertake work-related activity. To say that claimants can undertake work-related activity on a voluntary basis (without providing for such an arrangement in the Bill, see paragraph 24) whilst labelling them as having ‘limited capability for work’ and ‘limited capability to undertake

    work-related activity’ will create a situation where nobody will take advantage of

    that opportunity.

    10. The Government has cited a figure of 1 million incapacity benefits claimants

    who want to work. However, many feel that they have already been labelled as ‘cannot work’ by nature of being on benefits. Over time, people conform to the labels given to them, and RADAR has received many phone calls from members who think they are going to be forced to work. These individuals are capable of work with the right support, but many have been unemployed for a number of years and believe that there is no possibility of them returning to work and Jobcentre Plus has done nothing to disabuse them of this belief. The Government must take steps to work with these claimants who are still on benefits because they have always been assumed to be incapable of work due to their disability or long-term health condition.

    11. Developing appropriate plans for working with current incapacity benefits

    claimants would avoid the potential that the Government has created not for a two-tier, but a three-tier system; the first tier being current claimants, the second claimants of the support component of ESA, and the third tier claimants of the

    work-related activity component. RADAR feels that an undertaking to work with

    current incapacity benefits claimants should be made explicit in the Bill.

Limited capability for work and limited capability for work-related activity

12. RADAR feels that there is a contradiction between Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill

    as regards eligibility for the work-related activity component of ESA. Clause

    1(3)(a) states that the conditions for eligibility for ESA include that the individual

    has ‘limited capability for work’. Clause 2(3)(b) states that to be entitled to the

    work-related activity component the individual ‘does not have limited capability

    for work-related activity’. RADAR does not see the distinction. It may be useful

    to have a definition of ‘limited’ in order to clear up this apparent confusion that

    one can have limited capability for work but not work-related activity.

13. Similarly, Clause 8(2)(b) states that regulations may assess limited capability for

    work ‘by reference to the extent to which a person who has some specific

    disease or bodily or mental disablement is capable or incapable of performing

    such activities as may be prescribed’. But Clause 9(2)(b) states that a limited

    capability for work-related activity may be assessed by ‘reference to such

    matters as the regulations may provide’. Therefore limited capability for work-

    related activity may or may not be related to disability whereas limited capability

    for work must be solely related to disability. This confusion must be rectified.

Different types of work

14. The above confusion may be reduced if the Government were to consider a

    wider definition of work to include any number of hours of paid work, and also

    voluntary and community work.

Personal Capability Assessment

15. RADAR understands the need to include healthcare professionals in assessing

    eligibility for a disability or health-related benefit. However, we do not in any

    way support a medical or impairment-focused assessment of capability for work

    or work-related activity.

16. RADAR was therefore disappointed to find that the Welfare Reform Bill

    maintains the current position of medicalising disabled people as regards

    employment and capability. Both before and after the Green Paper, RADAR,

    and many other disability organisations, have emphasised that people should

    not be split into categories of ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ work.

17. In 1(4)(a) a person is defined as having a limited capability for work if ‘his

    capability for work is limited by his physical or mental condition’. This takes no

    account of: other individual factors such as education, training and skills; social

factors such as discrimination and employers’ willingness to employ disabled

    people; the effect of living in an area of high unemployment or deprivation;

    environmental factors such as access to the workplace, the availability of

    funding for reasonable adjustments (of increasing concern following the

    Government decision to make Government Departments ineligible for the

    Access to Work Programme); and the ability to access assistive technologies

    and the appropriate training and maintenance that may be associated with such

    technologies. In the Green Paper the barriers faced by disabled people in

    finding work were recognised, as was the importance of working with employers.

    There seems to be no recognition of this in the Bill.

    18. Our concerns about the medicalisation of assessment are worsened by Clause

    8(3)(c) which states that the capability to work will be determined by ‘medical

    examination’. Considering the large sections of the Bill that are left for

    determination by a regulatory framework, RADAR does not understand why

    medicalisation of the assessment process is on the face of the Bill.

    19. Clause 10 causes further issues with its regular reference to ‘work-focused

    health-related assessment’. RADAR sees little reason that a work-focused

    assessment should be health-related, and such reference on the face of the Bill

    limits the ability of subsequent regulation to be flexible as regards the nature of

    assessment.

    20. Clause 10(7)(b) states that the work-focused health-related assessment will

    measure ‘the extent to which his capability for work may be improved by the

    taking of steps in relation to his physical or mental condition’ and (c) ‘such other

    matters relating to his physical or mental condition’. There is no need to limit

    these steps to those related to a physical or mental condition. Indeed, given the

    Government’s rhetoric and the aims of the reforms, this process should be

    opened up to encompass all steps that may address all issues outlined in

    paragraph 17 above. This narrowness of vision highlights exactly why the

    process should not be medicalised. It assumes that capability for work is a

    medical issue and does not allow for a holistic approach towards increasing an

    individual’s work-readiness.

    21. It is unlikely for the most part that any medical interventions would result in an

    increase in a long-term disabled person’s capability for work. To focus on a

    medical approach risks being detrimental to disabled people’s self-esteem and

    society’s ability to value disabled people as equal members of the workforce.

    Any assessment of capability to work, and any plans to assist someone move

    towards work or retain their current job, must involve primarily the disabled

    person and their line manager (if they are already in a job), Occupational

    Therapists, Assistive Technology experts, local employers, and Disability

    Employment Advisers who understand the issues that disabled people face and

    also appreciate the condition of the local labour market.

22. RADAR has discussed these issues with the Government, and believes that

    there is an appreciation of the issues within the Department for Work and

    Pensions. It is therefore worrying that this is not reflected in the Bill.

Sanctions

23. The original Green Paper’s proposal to introduce conditionality to Work

    Focused Interviews has been extended to not only the work-focused health-

    related assessment but also the work-related activity that a claimant may

    undertake. The reasons for this need to be discussed in detail, and RADAR

    suggests there is further external consultation.

Voluntary participation

    24. Following the Green Paper and Ministers’ assurances that anybody on the

    Support component of the ESA will be able to access work-focused activity,

    there is no provision for this in the Bill. Clause 12 focuses on the sanctions

    regime with no mention that there may be a voluntary aspect to these

    programmes. RADAR believes there should be a commitment in the Bill to

    providing support component claimants with the appropriate information and

    support necessary to access these activities.

In conclusion

25. RADAR strongly supports the Government’s joint targets of creating a welfare stsystem fit for the 21 century, and raising the employment rate to 80%. The

    concept of ‘cannot work’ must be swept away. The notion that disabled people

    cannot work is rejected in almost every other policy area.

26. At present, however, we have considerable reservations about whether the

    Welfare Reform Bill will live up to these ambitions. RADAR believes the Bill

    should be amended to ensure there is:

    ? no distinction between can and cannot work

    ? less focus on regulations and more commitments within the Bill itself

    ? a commitment to work with current claimants

    ? rejection of the medicalisation of disability and work-related activity

    ? informed and encouraged voluntary participation for all

    ? a Clause committing the Government to work with employers

    Unless the above is taken into account, RADAR finds it difficult to see how the

    Bill will provide for unemployed disabled people throughout the UK.

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