Can it work?

In May 2002, there were three million people claiming benefits due
to ill-health or disability. This is significantly more people than
the combined total of lone parents and unemployed people claiming
out of work benefits, yet we hear so much less about them. Work has
a crucial role in reducing poverty and social exclusion, and the
low employment rate of disabled people is good neither for disabled
people nor for the wider economy and society.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has recently
examined how more disabled people could be supported into work. We
found that the government’s strategy – while steering policy in the
right direction – is inadequate to meet the challenge. As a result
it is unlikely the government will meet its target of significantly
reducing the difference between the employment rate of disabled
people and the overall rate by 2006. We need a new, more radical
and comprehensive strategy and Jobcentre Plus would be a pivotal
partner in this.

Jobcentre Plus is the new government agency which integrates work
and benefit services. The national roll-out of Jobcentre Plus will
be complete by 2006 and now is the time to ensure it is equipped to
deliver support and opportunities for its largest and most diverse
client group – disabled people.

Staff in Jobcentre Plus will need to start by exploding some of the
myths that surround disability. For example, there is a myth that
disabled people cannot work, when in fact more than
three-and-a-half million do. There is also a myth that disabled
people are born disabled, when in fact less than 20 per cent of
disabled people were born with a disability. And perhaps most
widely believed of all, is the myth that disabled people have
visible physical impairments, when in fact many have invisible
impairments. People with mental health or behavioural impairments
now make up the largest group of incapacity benefits claimants,
representing over one-third of claimants.

Once we recognise the diversity of disabled people’s experiences it
becomes clear that a wide range of welfare-to-work programmes is
required to meet their diverse needs. Incapacity benefits claimants
are not eligible to access certain mainstream employment
programmes, although some disabled people would benefit from
schemes like employment zones, so these need to be opened up. At
the same time attention should be paid to expanding and enhancing
schemes specifically designed for disabled people. Of course, not
all disabled people will feel able to work and services need to be
provided to promote the social inclusion of those incapacity
benefits claimants for whom work is not a viable option.

The success of welfare-to-work programmes will hinge on specialist
personal advisers within Jobcentre Plus developing their ability to
work with clients to assess their skills, experience and needs. The
IPPR has suggested that personal advisers would benefit from the
development of an IT-based profiling tool to help them make these
assessments in an objective and systematic manner. Work-focused
interviews must also be followed up with other activities such as
rehabilitation. More flexible benefits and reducing the risks for
people moving off benefits and into work would also help disabled
people overcome fears of financial insecurity if they do make the
move into work.

Finally, employers should be viewed as the clients of Jobcentre
Plus alongside disabled people – much more effort and resources
will need to be put into engaging with the local labour market and
helping employers to see the value of tapping into the skills and
experiences of disabled people.

Only if Jobcentre Plus is able to deliver high-quality and
wide-ranging services and engage effectively with both employers
and disabled people, will we succeed in transforming the hope of
work into a reality for disabled people.

Kate Stanley is a research fellow at the Institute for
Public Policy Research.

Background Reading

Kate Stanley, Sue Regan, The Missing Million: Supporting
Disabled People into Work
, IPPR, 2003. Tel 0845 458 9910 or

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