The Simon Heng Column: Jobcentre minus

Despite the optimistic language about getting disabled people back to work, the Department for Work and Pensions has always seemed to be more about reducing the cost of incapacity benefit, which is a push in the back rather than helping hand.

That impression isn’t helped by my encounters with JobCentre Plus, and the experiences of some of my disabled colleagues – with the admirable exception of Access to Work. Although the staff I met were friendly, and were trying to be helpful, I felt that their understanding of disabled people’s concerns around getting a job was limited. Added to that, I’m always aware that these are the people who make the decisions about my benefit entitlement. I can understand why people might be reluctant to emphasise their abilities, rather than their disabilities, when their benefits might be at risk.

Then Remploy announced that, in the past year, they had enabled more than 4,300 people with disabilities to find work, and were aiming to help a further 20,000 people per year in the future.

I knew that Remploy provided employment for disabled people in their own factories – they build and recondition wheelchairs used by the NHS, for example – but I had no idea that they also provided pre-employment training, job “tasters” and specialist recruitment (in negotiation with employers such as the Royal Mail) through Remploy Interwork. It also works with local JobCentre Plus offices to make the most of the help that is on offer.

This breaks the link, in people’s minds, between the agency that decides benefit entitlements, and one that is helping to find people permanent jobs, which take account of their disabilities and abilities one that has a track record of understanding disability issues.

Remploy also directly employs people with disabilities in a range of other “real” industries, such as manufacturing hi-tech GPS equipment, and an “e-cycle” operation, which recycles electrical equipment.

The trouble is, if I haven’t heard of what they do until now, many other disabled people won’t have, either.

Simon Heng is disabled and is involved in user-led organisations

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