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Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living

Iain Duncan Smith criticises employers over disability employment gap

Date: 25/8/2015
Summary: The government’s aims to get one million more people with a disability or long-term illness into work will require changes in practice and attitudes on the part of jobcentres and employers, experts have said.

The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said in a speech on Monday that he wanted to halve the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people by reforming the incapacity benefit assessment system and improving the levels of support for jobless disabled people who wanted to work.

He criticised some employers who he said were reluctant to take on people with disabilities and too quick to write off and ignore employees who fell ill instead of helping them back to work.

In the speech, which members of the media were not allowed to attend, Duncan Smith said: “We know there remains a gap between the employment rate of disabled and non-disabled people. We want to ensure everyone has the opportunity to transform their lives for the better by getting into work.”

He criticised the system for identifying whether people were fit for work, saying the work capability assessment (WCA) introduced by the Labour government in 2008 was too simplistic in the way it designated claimants as either able to work, and so eligible for employment support, or unable to work and therefore ignored.

He said: “We need a system focused on what a claimant can do and the support they’ll need – and not just on what they can’t do.”

The WCA was adopted and rapidly expanded – against expert advice – by coalition ministers from 2010, despite controversy over its accuracy and fairness. Although the coalition hoped the WCA would help cut a million people from incapacity benefit, numbers on sickness benefit fell by just under 90,000 under Duncan Smith’s stewardship. The coalition eventually parted company with the WCA contractor Atos amid rising costs, complaints and appeals.

Labour attacked Duncan Smith’s speech as an attempt to “cover his own failures”. Kate Green, the shadow minister for disabled people, said: “In the last parliament, the Tories overspent by £8.7bn on incapacity benefit and their disastrous work capability assessment has been plagued with problems with contractors, poor assessments and costly appeals.”

Matthew Oakley, a senior researcher at the Social Market Foundation thinktank, welcomed the speech’s emphasis on improving employment support but said it was light on detail on how this would be achieved. “The key question is how we do this in practice … It is a major challenge, equal to the scale of benefits reform.”

There is widespread concern among campaigners that the government‘s main priority is cutting benefits expenditure rather than supporting people back into work. In July, it set out plans for a £30 cut in the weekly unemployment benefit of people forced to give up work through disability or serious illness as a way of providing an “incentive” for them to return to the workplace.

The cut will be introduced from April 2017 and will affect about a third of future claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA).

Mark Atkinson, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said changes in approach from the state and employers were required to give disabled people the tailored support they needed to find work. “Right now, this support is just not effective enough,” he said.

Richard Kramer, deputy chief executive of the deafblind charity Sense, said: “The fault line is often not the benefits system but ensuring that we dismantle the many barriers that prevent people getting opportunities to work in the first place, whether that is negative attitudes from employers, failure to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace, reduced support from Access to Work and inaccessible transport.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman played down the speech beforehand, saying: “This isn’t a policy announcement; it’s the start of a conversation.”

Source The Guardian

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