Open Forum

In May, after seven years on incapacity benefit, I received a letter from Jobcentre Plus stating that it had been stopped. I had failed a benefitrelated medical examination, known as the personal capability assessment.

My options were to appeal or apply for jobseeker’s allowance. It was doubly upsetting for me. For last year I did try to return to work, through the New Deal for Disabled People. My “job broker” proved so incompetent that I gave up, angry and demoralised. This was unfortunate, since clinical depression was the main reason for receiving the benefit.

Several years earlier, in pre-New Deal days, I had a bad experience with a similar agency. At that time I was anxious about my ability to hold down a job. Having had demanding jobs in mental health services and adult education, I felt I would cope
better in a support role. I chose a job broker after reading a glowing article about them. The scheme had operated nationally for 25 years, and specialised in helping disabled people.

Over several months I saw two employment advisers, and found their approach haphazard and patronising. After I told the first one I had to work part-time, he said his organisation had a vacancy for a full-time employment adviser. He added: “You don’t need any special experience, you learn on the job.” His approach to job-searching was to look randomly through newspapers and websites, singling out unsuitable jobs. I transferred to another office, but they could not even provide basic employment counselling and made no attempt to understand my health problems.

These agencies are not properly assessed, so they can get away with a shockingly amateurish approach. If the government continues to contract out employment support services, it must select and supervise them more rigorously. Advice and support should be a compulsory qualification. The government’s efforts to “encourage” incapacity benefit claimants back to work will be futile unless it provides professional and sensitive support.

Peter Linnett writes on holistic health and spirituality

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