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1 year ago

Disability employment gap

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38 Disability employment gap Conclusions and recommendations 1. The Department has to date chosen not to set absolute targets for reducing the disability employment gap, on the basis that it is sensitive to change for reasons other than the impact of policy. We understand this rationale. Clear reporting and measures of progress are, however, essential to keeping the goal of halving the gap in focus and ensuring transparency over whether and where progress is being made. This is especially so because halving the gap—and indeed, going beyond this where possible—is an ambition that will, in all likelihood, not be achieved by 2020. It is a long-term ambition that requires long-term thinking and a consistent approach. The Department can do much to lay the ground for this by introducing clear expectations, and detailed measurements and reporting standards now. Only through measuring outcomes will it be possible to identify and spread good practice. (Paragraph 13) 2. We recommend the Department commit to gather data and report on a range of measures, including, but not limited to, those using the Labour Force Survey. It should report on measures of disabled people’s experiences of the quality of work, surveys using questions that give specific examples of mental or physical difficulties in carrying out day-to-day actions in determining whether an individual is “disabled”, and progress on reducing employment gaps for different conditions. It should also conduct research into how difficulties associated with different conditions have been surmounted. (Paragraph 14) 3. As the Labour Force Survey is likely to remain the most widely-used measure of disability and the clearest means of tracking the Government’s progress, we recommend the ONS and DWP commit together to not making further changes to the Labour Force Survey question on disability for the next ten years, to enable consistent tracking over time. (Paragraph 15) 4. Achieving the Government’s ambitions on the disability employment gap will require a sustained commitment from a range of different agencies, Departments and external stakeholders beyond the DWP. Businesses have a vital leadership role to play, and bringing in health and education services is also of great importance. It is important that efforts are co-ordinated to ensure that all of those involved are working consistently towards the same goal. We recommend that the Government publish a Disability Employment Strategy, building on the outcome of the green paper consultation. This would bring together the initiatives already announced that relate to halving the gap, build on them, and ensure that this seen as a shared, long-term objective and priority across all relevant Departments. It should then commission an annual report on progress towards meeting its strategic goals, drawing on the improved monitoring that we recommend. (Paragraph 18) 5. We welcome the Department’s decision to exempt some severely disabled claimants from repeated reassessment for ESA. This will reduce pressure on disabled people (and their families, carers and so on). It should also reduce assessment costs for the Department and waiting times for assessments. We invite the Department to set out in response to this report both when it intends to introduce this change, and the criteria it will use to identify claimants that will be exempt. (Paragraph 24)

Disability employment gap 39 6. 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 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. (Paragraph 28) 7. 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 counter-productive. 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 re-iterate 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. (Paragraph 29) 8. The Department must ensure that in attempting to ensure that disabled people comply with the conditions of their benefits, it is not inadvertently harming their work prospects. Sanctions, where applied, should be a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. We heard that inappropriate sanctions can cause significant hardship, which in turn can affect the health of disabled claimants and make a return to work less, not more likely. The Department must consider how it can enhance the protection that it offers to disabled claimants. Drawing on the outcome of the green paper consultation on the Support Group, and the Yellow Card trial, we recommend the Department develop a Code of Conduct for Work Coaches on applying sanctions to disabled people. This should incorporate existing safeguarding advice on protecting vulnerable ESA claimants. It should also include guidance on how to consider the impact on a disabled claimants’ mental and physical wellbeing when deciding whether to make a referral for a sanction. (Paragraph 31)

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