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Disability employment gap

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20 Disability employment gap Support Group can engage with return-to-work support on a voluntary basis. Sense, a charity supporting people who are deafblind, told us that very few people who are currently in the Support Group are aware that they can volunteer for this support. Many are concerned that doing so would affect their benefit entitlement.81 A voluntary “keep in touch” discussion could ensure that people in the Support Group are kept well informed of the support available to them. We heard that the frequency of contact between disabled claimants and JCP should be determined by the claimants’ individual requirements.82 27. A November 2016 report by the National Audit Office concluded that the Department has limited evidence on how people respond to the possibility of receiving a sanction (which it uses to enforce conditionality), and has carried out little of its own research to examine the impact of its use of sanctions in the UK.83 Witnesses told us that even light-touch conditions can be very challenging for some disabled people (with those in the Support Group likely to have more severe conditions than others). For example, the National Autistic Society told us that “complying with mandatory activity such as attending interviews at the Job Centre can be particularly difficult for autistic people, who may struggle to communicate face-to-face”. They therefore recommended that “mandation and the threat of benefit sanctions should only be used as a last resort”.84 We previously recommended that participation in return-to-work support should be voluntary for disabled people. In our Future of Jobcentre Plus report we cited evidence that voluntary engagement is more likely to lead to success in finding and staying in work, while mandation can be counterproductive.85 We heard some evidence suggesting that disabled people (whether in the WRAG or Support Group) should be exempt from conditionality altogether. This reflected concerns over the Department’s lack of understanding about the effects and consequences of sanctions. Witnesses suggested sanctions might cause disabled claimants to disengage from support, pushing them further away from work and undermining trust between claimants and advisers. We heard evidence of the deleterious effects of sanctions on the health of those with mental health conditions, in particular.86 28. The Work Capability Assessment is fundamentally flawed. The Department should quickly begin the process of reforming it. We are pleased that the Department is looking at how it can take a more flexible, personalised approach to providing unemployed disabled people—including those with the greatest needs—with support. We are, however, concerned that the Work Capability Assessment model proposed in the Department’s green paper would place more responsibility on Work Coaches than is appropriate for their current levels of expertise, particularly in terms of re-assessing and varying conditionality over time. We reiterate the recommendation from our Future 81 Sense (DEG0065). See also: United Response (DEG0030), RNIB (DEG0025), Name withheld (DEG0044), 82 Remploy (FJP0080), National Autistic Society (FJP0052), Crisis (FJP0060) 83 National Audit Office, Benefit Sanctions, November 2016 84 National Autistic Society (DEG0060). See also: Disability Rights UK (DEG0041), Trade Union Congress (DEG0055), Inclusion Scotland (DEG0061), Inclusion London (DEG0059), ERSA (DEG0087), Citizen’s Advice Scotland (DEG0047), Rethink Mental Illness (DEG0037), Joseph Rowntree Foundation (DEG0085), MS Society (DEG0062), Scope (DEG0069), Centrepoint, Crisis, ERSA, Homeless Link, St Mungos, The Salvation Army (DEG0036), Name withheld (DEG0021), Catherine Scarlett (DEG0010), Mencap (DEG0084), MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow (DEG0073) 85 Work and Pensions Committee, The Future of Jobcentre Plus, 2nd Report of Session 2015–16, HC 57, November 2016, para. 64–66 86 Mind and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (FJP0067), Citizen’s Advice Scotland (DEG0047), Inclusion Scotland (DEG0061), Inclusion London (DEG0059), Rethink Mental Illness (DEG0037)

Disability employment gap 21 of Jobcentre Plus report concerning developing a front-line, senior disability specialist role for Work Coaches. If Work Coaches are to be handed much more discretion over setting conditionality, it is imperative that they do so from a well-informed position. 29. Disabled people who want to work and feel they might be able to do so with some assistance should have access to support wherever possible, irrespective of the type and level of benefit that they are claiming. It is important that Work Coaches encourage claimants to access programmes and resources where appropriate, and that individuals feel that they are able to take steps towards work without risking their benefit entitlement. A “keep in touch” discussion could help claimants who would like to take steps towards work to access support, while ensuring that they understand that this will not affect their benefit entitlement. We are concerned, however, about the green paper’s suggestion of applying conditionality to people in the ESA Support Group. We recommend that the Department does not immediately proceed with the idea of mandating contact between Support Group claimants and JCP. There is limited evidence to support this being a helpful approach, and some evidence that it is counterproductive. We recommend that any steps to engage the Support Group are introduced on a voluntary basis, and are led by the needs of individual claimants. We also reiterate our previous recommendation, supported by Government, that participation by disabled people in contracted-out DWP employment support programmes should be voluntary and free from the risk of sanctions. This should extend to JCP programmes for the Support Group. Protecting vulnerable disabled claimants 30. The Department has safeguarding procedures in place relating to some ESA claimants, intended to ensure that “no sanction is imposed inappropriately”; for example because a vulnerable ESA claimant has not fully understood the mandatory requirements of them and the consequences of noncompliance.87 It has also trialled a Yellow Card scheme, whereby claimants would be given 14 days to produce evidence of “good reason” for noncompliance before receiving a sanction.88 The Benefit Claimants Sanctions (Required Assessments) Bill proposes to extend DWP safeguards.89 It would require the Department to take into account claimants’ mental and physical wellbeing (amongst other factors) in deciding whether to impose a sanction, and to assess automatically whether they would qualify for hardship payments. We heard such an approach could be beneficial for some disabled claimants: particularly those with mental health conditions. Witnesses told us that there is a substantial risk that imposing sanctions on such claimants can increase stress, and lead to a deterioration in their health. Rethink Mental Illness, a mental health charity, explained: The evidence base for [sanctions] effectiveness in changing behaviour for people with mental health problems is not well-established. Putting people 87 Department for Work and Pensions, Work Programme Universal Credit provider guidance, 2016, para. 4.8 88 The Yellow Card trial concluded in September 2016. A final report on the initiative is expected in April 2017. HC Deb 18 November 2018, cW52337 89 A Private Member’s Bill introduced by Mhairi Black MP in December 2016

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