So the government in their wisdom have decided to give job centre and work programme case managers the power to force people on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) into unpaid work.
The “fall out” from this could be widespread indeed. In recent months we have seen 4 major UK charities withdraw from the scheme with the latest being Scope (a charity for people with cerebral palsy). The 4 charities who have withdrawn were able to offer hundreds of work placements to disabled people. They often also had the expertise to meet the very unique support needs of the aforementioned group of people.
So where does this leave us? I believe that the blanket forcing of people on benefits to work will be very detrimental. No-one is denying the fact that people who are able to, should contribute to wider society. In fact, in my experience of working directly with disabled people the one thing that they want is a job, not just a work placement but a “REAL” job.
It seems to me that there are many obstacles put in the way of disabled people getting a job. So what are the issues?
- Support needs
- Understanding the needs of disabled people
- Willingness by employers
So how can we address these issues without forcing people into unpaid work? I believe that initially, disabled people should have a full assessment of their needs’. I don’t want to see this being a paper based exercise that asks inane questions. I take you back to some work I did with Derbyshire Jobcentre Plus some years ago where they changed their interview practices as a result of some basic input I had given. This took the form of helping them to form their questions better so that people with communication difficulties could understand them and simplifying their interview procedures. Offering more time at jobcentre interviews would also help.
Proper training also needs to be in place for both employers and jobcentre staff. I refer back to the previous work I had done with Jobcentre staff, this gave them the encouragement to spend more time with disabled people in order to really understand their needs. This resulted in much better assessments of peoples’ needs and ultimately a better service.
Employers also need to be willing to employ disabled people. In my experience, they are often fearful of employing disabled people due to a lack of understanding of their needs. They are also unaware of the benefits to their business of doing so. For example, in all research that is carried out; some of the most striking facts that come up time and time again are that disabled people take less time off work and have a high level of loyalty. If employers were made aware of these facts I am sure that they would be more willing to employ disabled people.
Secondly, employers do need training on how to deal with their disabled employees’ needs and how they could make some minor alterations to ensure that they are able to employ disabled people. I am not sure how many employers or in fact disabled people are aware that they can apply for funding for support in employment? This funding can be used to pay for a number of things including, alterations to the work premises or a job coach to help the employee in work.
It is clear to me that there are many challenges to be faced due to the Mandatory Work Scheme. However, the issues it presents, whilst challenging are not insurmountable and we must all work together to ensure that disabled people are not left out in the cold and in a state of abject poverty.