The government has launched a Green Paper and consultation that aim to help more people with disabilities and/or long-term conditions into employment, and includes plans to reform the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) – or fit for work test.
The Green Paper has been launched as Ministers believe the system the government inherited in 2010 wasn’t working and want to ensure the system is better targeted and works for everyone.
In the consultation is a proposal on the WCA, the process for assessing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit claimants’ capability for work, that would put an end to binary ‘can work/can’t work’ groups.
The Green Paper also includes:
• Creating a Disability Confident Business Leaders Group to work alongside Ministers and officials to increase employer engagement around disabled employment, starting with FTSE 250 companies
• Developing large-scale trials on how health-led services and support can help get disabled people and those with long-term conditions back into work – with a specific focus on mental health and musculoskeletal conditions
• Working with Health Education England, Public Health England and others to make the benefits of work an ingrained part of the training and health workforce approach
• Reviewing Statutory Sick Pay so it better encourages supportive conversations and phased returns to work
• Considering extending fit notes from doctors to other healthcare professionals to help ensure people receive more tailored support.
The Green Paper also includes a new Personal Support Package, which includes a new Health and Work Conversation between new people on ESA and their work coach, focusing on what they can do rather than what they cannot.
It also includes recruiting about 200 Community Partners into Jobcentre Plus, including expertise from the voluntary sector and extending ‘Journey to Employment’ job clubs to 71 Jobcentre Plus areas with the highest number of people receiving ESA with limited capability for work.
In addition, a trial voluntary work experience programme for young people with limited capability for work, enabling them to benefit from experience with a mainstream employer to build confidence and skills, enhance their CV and demonstrate their ability to perform a role is proposed.
The gap between the employment rates of disabled people and non-disabled people sits at 32% and 4.6 million people with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions are out of work. The government has previously committed to halve this gap.
Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green reiterated that no new welfare savings are being sought through this Green Paper.
“When things need improving, like the Work Capability Assessment and fit notes, we mustn’t shy away from big decisions,” Green said. “We must be bold in our ambition to help disabled people and those with health conditions.
“This Green Paper marks the start of our action to confront the attitudes, prejudices and misunderstandings that, after many years, have become ingrained within the welfare state, within the minds of employers and across wider society.”
Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, added: “The additional cost to the NHS of treating long-term health conditions that keep people out of work is estimated to be in the region of £7 billion per year.
“This means it is vital the health service is part of this new conversation on health and work. This Green Paper launches a wide–ranging debate about recognising the value of work as a health outcome.
“With all the evidence showing that work is a major driver of health, this is a big opportunity – to make sure that people get the support they need, improve their health and benefit the NHS all at the same time.
“I hope that health professionals will contribute their expertise so that we can ensure the best possible outcomes.”
However, the government’s plans have been met with concern by a learning disability charity. “The government’s long-awaited Green Paper sets out an important 10-year vision for changing attitudes and working with employers to transforming disabled people’s access to employment,” said Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap. “However, disappointingly, it does not set any milestones in terms of meeting the government’s important commitment to halve the disability employment gap.
“We want to work with the government and employers to open up access to the Labour market for people with a learning disability. However, we are concerned by proposals that could undermine the position of people with a learning disability in ESA’s Support Group, who have been assessed by the Government as being unable to take steps towards work. This would come on top of the £30 a week cut to ESA coming in next April, which we believe will be deeply damaging to disabled people’s wellbeing and ability to find work. It would also go against recent Ministerial assurances that there will be no further cuts to disabled people’s benefits.
“With just 6% of people with a learning disability known to social services in employment, future reforms need to focus on providing tailored support to individuals, whilst providing them with financial security. Many of the Green Paper proposals are welcome, but changes to the Support Group could cause deep concern to sick and disabled people, who the government must listen to and understand the impact these proposals would have on their lives.”
Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, said: “Disabled people are twice as likely as the general public to be unemployed. It is right that the government has recognised this is an injustice that needs to be tackled.
“Scope wants to see this Green Paper lead to an overhaul of the fitness for work test, better access to specialist and personalised employment support, more action by employers and more flexibility and support at work for working disabled people.
“For this consultation to succeed it must lead to real changes in policy, legislation and employer attitudes.”