Promising the world

    The government could be setting itself up to fail with its
    constant trumpeting of new visions because people have a habit of
    measuring reality against what they remember of the vision. But New
    Labour remains undaunted. So far we have had a vision for
    children’s services, born out in the Children Act 2004, we’ve been
    promised a vision for adult social care, and the latest is a vision
    for improving the life chances of disabled people.

    The vision is outlined in a report1 which states that by 2025
    disabled people in the UK “should have full opportunities and
    choices to improve their quality of life and will be respected and
    included as equal members of society”.

    The report sets out the long-term strategy to achieve this under
    four headings: independent living; support for families of young
    disabled children; transition into adulthood; support and
    incentives for getting and staying in employment.

    These four areas are pivotal in disabled people’s lives.
    Underpinning many of the recommendations is a proposal, to be
    piloted over the next three years, which aims to boost independent
    living by amalgamating funding streams into an individual budget,
    which the disabled person can decide how to spend.

    Putting aside this potentially radical step, there is plenty
    more to get to grips with in the report. John Knight, head of
    policy at disability charity Leonard Cheshire, says: “The document
    is helpful as it sets out a plan of action. There needs to be
    greater integration and the ingredients for that are here.”

    He has concerns, though. Local government is not included in the
    document to the degree he would have wished, leaving him unsure as
    to whether the necessary relationships between agencies will work.
    “They don’t have ownership of it. It is pitched very much as a
    central government piece of work, but service delivery is a local
    government responsibility.”

    His unease is exacerbated because the vision for adult care is
    still not with us, and Derek Wanless is now carrying out an
    independent review of funding for older people’s services. The fact
    that these interdependent documents are being drafted in isolation
    from one other is regrettable, Knight says.

    Nevertheless, the proposals in the strategy are long overdue.
    Taking the widest definition, which this report does, of disability
    being “the disadvantage experienced by an individual as a result of
    barriers that impact on people with impairments and ill health”, it
    encompasses about 11 million disabled adults and 770,000 children
    in the UK. They are more likely than non-disabled people to live in
    poverty; be economically inactive; experience problems with hate
    crime or harassment, housing, and transport; and less likely to
    have educational qualifications.

    So is it fair to expect disabled people to wait another 20 years
    before they can be “respected and included as equal members of
    society”? While most would want to see some substantial progress
    made towards meeting the aims well before then, there is an
    acknowledgement that to change such long-standing and endemic
    attitudes will take time.

    Knight is not so worried about the timescale. He is of the view
    that as the new Office for Disability Issues will get going this
    September, some “quite quick winds in terms of co-ordination and
    integration” will be generated.

    First on its to-do list, he says, should be a look at how local
    government fits into the strategy in terms of delivery. Others,
    however, feel let down by the timescales.

    Catherine A’Bear, communications director at the Shaw Trust,
    which provides employment services for disabled people, says they
    are “unambitious”. “We are disappointed with the timescales they
    are talking about when so many of the measures are already under
    way.”

    A’Bear is “not altogether thrilled” by pensions secretary Alan
    Johnson’s idea that Jobcentre Plus should be at the heart of the
    Pathways to Work programme, which helps those on incapacity benefit
    return to work. Plans to roll the programme out further could be
    delayed, she says, if Jobcentre Plus is to completely take on the
    running of it.

    “It is strange because there is a network of private and
    voluntary organisations that are delivering job brokering services
    under New Deal for Disabled People and they have told the minister
    that they can help run Pathways to Work. Our staff already have the
    skills and if we want to get it running quickly we are able to help
    do that.”

    Ignoring this offer would be a waste of a massive resource as
    these organisations are experienced in helping disabled people who
    want to find a job. “Although this document has taken on board the
    problem, it hasn’t taken on board the work already under way,”
    A’Bear adds.

    This feeling is mirrored at the Employers’ Forum on Disability
    where there were raised eyebrows from chief executive Susan
    Scott-Parker when she read the strategy. The forum has more than
    400 members employing 20 per cent of the workforce, and it works to
    make it easier for employers to employ disabled people.

    As well as recommending more business-to-business communication
    to raise awareness across companies of the benefits of employing
    disabled people, the report also recommends a best practice
    standard for employers.

    “I was a little surprised to see this as Alan Johnson launched
    one with the forum in November,” says Scott-Parker.

    The forum’s disability standard means that organisations can
    assess their performance on disability, taking into consideration
    risk management, customer care, employment, and accessibility of
    goods and services.
    Despite this, she says: “We are pleased that the government has
    made it policy to value employers as important stakeholders in this
    system. For a long time organisations have been blamed for not
    employing disabled people but there has been nothing to help them
    get it right.”

    But the best way to effect real change in attitudes is to get
    business people to meet disabled people face to face. Scott-Parker
    doesn’t feel this is emphasised enough in the report and getting it
    to happen will be one of the forum’s priorities.

    Another part of the equation is the government’s shake-up of
    incapacity benefit and accompanying plan to get more people off
    this benefit and back into work. This month it announced that those
    with the most severe health conditions or disabilities will qualify
    for more money than they do currently, while those with more
    manageable conditions will receive less – with plans to remove the
    incentives to stay on incapacity benefit.
    Scott-Parker says: “One of the reasons we have so many people on
    incapacity benefit is the perception that they are not going to get
    a fair deal when they look for work – that’s why the benefit was
    created. We don’t know why they are on benefit or what skills they
    have. We have no reason to believe they are all malingerers. The
    message should be that the government is serious about finding work
    for those who want it and it should be on the basis of one person
    being matched with the right job.”

    As for helping parents of disabled children back into employment
    – the report does not offer enough, says Jill Harrison, director of
    external affairs at charity Contact a Family.

    Just 3 per cent of mothers of disabled children work full-time
    compared with 27 per cent of mothers overall. It means that 55 per
    cent of disabled children grow up in or at the margins of poverty.
    Child care which, expensive at the best of times, is even more
    expensive when you have a disabled child.

    Although Harrison is pleased with many of the recommendations in
    the chapter on early years and family support, she is disappointed
    that government cannot see the importance of change to the tax
    credit system.
    Tax credits help people in work on low incomes but everyone
    receives the same amount of money regardless of circumstances.
    Harrison wants a sliding scale, so that families with children with
    the highest needs have additional help.

    “This is a fundamental thing that is needed to improve these
    families’ lives because it prevents them going out to work or doing
    ordinary things like others.

    “It’s about different provision for different groups of people.
    We need to sort out the problems now,” she says. “It’s nothing
    short of scandalous that there are many women who want to work but
    can’t because there’s little suitable, affordable child care.”

    Although she can see that the government is aiming for much
    better child care by 2025, in the interim she wants to see much
    more help for families.

    Meanwhile, Knight says: “The government has one last chance to
    get it right, otherwise disabled people will be swimming in a sea
    of fragmented services for ever more.”

    1. Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People from www.strategy.gov.uk

    RECOMMENDATIONS

    Independent Living

    • From early 2005: Individual budgets to be piloted, bringing
      together sources of funding, services equipment and
      adaptations.
    • By 2010: each council should have a user-led organisation
      modelled on centres for independent living.
    • By 2012: Department of Health and other departments should work
      towards a new approach to supporting independent living, delivering
      support, equipment, and adaptations

    Early Years

    • By 2015: Sure Start unit to ensure that all families with a
      disabled child under five can access high quality, flexible child
      care.
    • From 2006: local authorities should consider including the
      provision of a keyworker to families as a key performance indicator
      of local social care, education and health services.
    • By 2006: DfES should identify how local authorities can shift
      the emphasis of expenditure towards early intervention. If
      transitional funding is needed, DfES could consider a national fund
      to cover restructure of services.

    Transition

    • By 2015: all disabled young people and their families will
      experience continuity and co-ordination in the services they
      receive, as both children and adults.
    • By 2015: all young people will have the opportunity to be fully
      involved in the personalised planning of their future activities
      and provision.

    Employment

    • From 2005: Department for Work and Pensions and DfES to ensure
      that New Deal for Skills and employer training pilots meet the
      needs of disabled people.
    • By 2010: DWP should restructure the ways of providing in-work
      support through Access to Work which provides help, such as
      interpreters, and special equipment so that disabled people can
      work.

     

     

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