Disabled people know what it will take to help them into work. Will Labour listen?

Labour must prove it has changed its spots since the days of hiring Lord Freud as welfare reform adviser under Tony Blair.

Labour must prove it has changed its spots since the days of hiring Lord Freud as welfare reform adviser under Tony Blair

Narrowing the 30 per cent disability employment gap will be a cornerstone of Labour’s policy on disability, Kate Green and Stephen Timms announced last week.

But is this a genuine move to win the votes of Britain’s 11 million disabled population, worse hit than any other group by austerity policies? Or is it more posturing to out-tough the Tories on welfare?

The dual aim of fulfilling disabled people’s potential while bringing down the benefits bill sounds like a no brainer, except that we were here with Labour 10 years ago. Similar pronouncements gave rise to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) in 2008 and few policies have done more damage to the fortunes of sick and disabled people.

Every other day a death is directly or indirectly linked to the brutal assessment system, incorrect decisions and benefit sanctions. And only 5 per cent of people on ESA per year are moving into work, compared with 25 per cent under previous scheme.

Labour was right to break ranks with Lord Freud this week after he exposed the contempt with which he views disabled people’s value in the labour market. Now it must prove it really has changed its spots since the days of hiring him as welfare reform adviser under Tony Blair.

Will the disability employment gap still be framed around Freud’s paternalistic mantra of ‘welfare dependency’, with no solutions but the stick of sanctions? Or will Labour’s policies involve us as active subjects with the same ambitions and aspirations as everyone else?

Some of Labour’s proposals last week are welcome. Replacing the centralised Work Programme with local partnerships between Jobcentres, local authorities and businesses makes sense because the most successful Supported Employment schemes for disabled people are already locally commissioned and are being squeezed out by the failing Work Programme.

The proposed expansion of the Disability Employment Adviser role in Jobcentres is good because getting disabled people into work requires knowledge and training, not the one-size-fits-all approach of welfare-to-work.

But the main strategy, a new specialist employment support scheme for disabled people called Work Support, is so far unconvincing. Apart from a new name, it appears based on the same concept as its failed predecessors – (Pathways to Work, Work Step, Work Choice) – a personal adviser programme outsourced to private providers who are paid by results.

Success will depend on what new solutions and strategies these advisers have at their disposal. But thus far, relying on Freud’s beloved markets or tinkering with payment structures to spur innovation has flopped. So it’s time to listen to what support disabled people actually want.

I hope my research, in association with Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform, involving over 500 people in the target group for disability employment policy should make the listening part easy. We asked what people’s barriers to work were, what their experience of employment support via Jobcentre Plus or the Work Programme was, and how their aims and aspirations could be better fulfilled by different solutions to the ones on offer.

What support do disabled people want?

The most popular measure, at 54 per cent, was a package of support agreed upfront while looking for work so they could reassure an employer that they could do the job. The kinds of support that would level the playing field and enable to compete fairly for jobs: special equipment and adaptations, accessible transport or personal assistance.

This kind of package already exists within the DWP by the name of Access to Work. The scheme pays for adjustments over and above those reasonable for an employer to make. It is popular with disabled people and cost effective to the Treasury. However, infuriatingly, you can only apply for it once you have a job so it is of no help to people looking for work because they won’t know what help they could get.

What good will a Work Support adviser be if they can’t broker an Access to Work package between disabled jobseekers and potential employers? This solution won’t come from the market, but from that rare commodity: joined up thinking within the DWP.

Next up, 50 per cent of people wanted help with paying for further education or training to give them better job prospects. Many people who were prevented from doing their previous job by accident or injury wanted to retrain in a new career. But the current system excludes funding for study beyond GSCE level so private providers have their hands tied.

What will be the point of regular mandatory meetings with a Work Support adviser if no funding is available for re-qualifying for a suitable job? Instead of paying private providers to go through the motions, Work Support needs to be flexible enough to allow disabled people to put their resource allocation towards further study or training if this is what will improve their job prospects.

These are just some of the measures which could bring a disabled person closer to a job. But when these avenues are exhausted, the job, as it were, needs to come closer to the person. All previous research concludes getting more disabled people into work will only happen with changes in the labour market. The nature and conditions of jobs must include more disabled people.

And here’s where it would help Labour to understand who makes up its target group of disabled people on incapacity benefits. Our survey respondents on ESA were by and large people with mental health conditions and/or chronic illness. The vast majority say they are prevented from doing a regular job by pain, fatigue, sickness, social anxiety, depression and most especially, from the unpredictably variability of their health from day to day. Yet 85 per cent believe that employers could, or may be able to, make use of their skills if they adapted the kinds of job on offer.

The kinds of working conditions people needed were not far-fetched: 64 per cent wanted flexible working times, with annualised, instead of weekly contracted hours; 62 per cent said working from home; 58 per cent said a more positive attitude towards employing disabled people and 44 per cent said working less than 16 hours per week.

Will Work Support have the power and the vision to work with employers to create these kinds of jobs for the vast majority of people on ESA who need them? Or genuinely help people to become self-employed? It is a tall order but the disability employment problem will remain intractable unless it does.

Catherine Hale is an independent researcher and campaigner on disability and social security policy and a member of the Spartacus Network. She also blogs

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35 Responses to “Disabled people know what it will take to help them into work. Will Labour listen?”

  1. The_Average_Joe_UK

    Labours position on this is political point scoring as usual. This is the only way that lightweights play.

    Just watch Angela Eagle on QT start at 50:25. The audience turned on her, boo’ed her and told her exactly what they thought of her.

    Labour is the nasty party.


  2. Selohesra

    Labour’s attack on Freud was a cheap & dirty low even for Miliband & quickly unravels with any impartial review. Unfortunately Labour’s broadcasting arm at the BBC jumped on the opportunity to push the Labour line in all their news bulletins and even a few QT audience members on a barely watched programme going off message will not really prevent the episode being a net Labour win.

  3. JoeDM

    Now we know that Labour produced policy papers on this in 2003. Mencap originaly asked for a Lord Freud type of subsidised minimum wage for disabled back in 2000 !!!!

    Sheer Labour hypocrisy !!!!

    It is clear from BBC TV Question Time that this has backfired on Miliband.

  4. clivegsd

    Lets see, who did Lord Freud work for before the Tories?

  5. Leon Carter

    I thought the Conservatives held that title

  6. Leon Carter

    Attack or not it had to be said by someone in the commons because just were is the plight of disabled persons leading too?

  7. Leon Carter

    Personally I could not care less who he or any MP worked for before as it solves nothing and just jumps on camerons nasty ways, what we all should be doing is looking forward foe answers and ways out of this mess where everyone is treated equally

  8. Leon Carter

    Backfired? not at all, it shows he is willing to listen and engage with this fine group of people, all you get from Cameron is the Long Term Economic Plan which btw after over 4 years should be working now but is not

  9. treborc1

    I’ sad gas is to expensive my self never mind it will get cheaper.

  10. sue

    Giles fraser on QT took the position I wanted Labour to take in regards to Lord Freud’s comment, that it needs to be taken in the context of how sick and disabled people perceive their treatment under this Tory led governments welfare reforms. He referred to the hated and feared WCA assessments and the number of suicides that has occurred as a result of these reforms. Labour tried to use the comment to score political points rather than speak on behalf of the sick and disabled. Ed and his shadow cabinet have always remained silent on the appalling welfare reforms except for the bedroom tax, which the public are against.

    Yes, they introduced ESA, but it’s this government who revised it and made it tougher to score points, then rolled it out nationally before it was ready. They changed the culture of DWP and JCP with the focus of getting people off benefits by using sanctions. Whatever Labour introduces in the way of reforms this culture must change….the carrot rather than the stick is the most humane and empowering method of getting people back to work rather than removing their benefits. There is no evidence this works

  11. clivegsd

    Okay just so you know, Freud worked for Labour when they were the government doing exactly the same thing he is doing with the Tories now. Google “Fred report” and read it, you can see the beginnings of IDS’s Universal Credit amongst other things.

    Don’t think that getting rid of Freud and voting Labour in will improve things, it won’t, “tougher on welfare than the Tories” Labour’s Rachel Reeves.

    You need to remember what happened in the past as it gives you an idea of what is likely to happen in the future, look at Labour’s wording on scrapping the bedroom tax for instance, oh and Labour brought in the first bedroom tax, no one cared though because it hit us who rent privately

  12. Leon Carter

    I am well aware of the past, but the fact remains you cannot change the past only the future, like I say too many people are looking backwards instead of forwards and is just wasting time and I do not have the energy for that.

    Cameron is constantly blaming everyone but himself for his own ills I am well aware of Labours chequered past, but I am also aware of Cameron’s Chequered last 4.5 years too and right now it is he who holds the keys to power and is he who needs bringing down from that high horse he sits on destroying many peoples lives so for now my energy is directed at him for now.

  13. clivegsd

    So you forgive a government that was doing the same thing that people disagree with not because you cannot change the past? Blair was paying Atos to boot people off DLA, if Miliband decided to do the same thing you would do nothing because it happened “in the past”?

    People have a duty to hold politicians to account regardless of when they acted, Labour need to see their own hypocrisy and people need to remind them of their past. We still have Burnham looking to set up his National Care Service, do you remember how he wanted to fund that vanity project?

  14. Leon Carter

    I never said I forgive them please do not put words into my mouth, fact is with our Government trying to get justice on past events that happened will not happen as they just retrospectively pass legislation to protect there arses bedroom tax an example, we have just one chance every 5 years and that is elections.

    We no longer live in a democracy those days are long gone we are in a capitalistic nation were corporation and Govt are kings an.d nothing will break that until the nation rises up and right now that is a long way off and thus reminding of the past is fruitless as they don’t listen as we have all witnessed countless times already.

    So if you want change start planning and thinking about the election as it is not far away now.

  15. clivegsd

    Ah bedroom tax, like the one Labour inflicted on those of us that have to rent privately? So they should be forgiven for bringing in that? Sorry but Labour have been the cause of this shit storm that the Tories are inflicting on disabled people and carers.

    Labour have my utter contempt, I view them as little better than the Tories, or Lib Dems come to that. Freud was trying to implement what the Tories are now doing when he was working for Labour, even down to a version of Universal Credit.

    I won’t be voting for Labour, the Tories or Lib Dems, no I won’t be voting for UKIP either. Labour will likely win the next election, nothing will change, “tougher on welfare than the Tories”, yup, I really can see that happening. BTW, Labour ceased to exist many years ago

  16. clivegsd

    “They changed the culture of DWP and JCP with the focus of getting people off benefits by using sanctions”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/1577313/Welfare-is-a-mess-says-adviser-David-Freud.html He wants a combination of carrots and sticks to persuade people to take jobs. “You have to slice the benefits [if people won’t work] but if you’re not spending the money to provide the services, the stick is just a vengeful and useless way of beating people.”

    No real difference between Freud with Labour and Freud with the Tories

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    It’s working just fine for him. It’s kept the deficit up, lower wages…

  18. Guest

    Oh yea, it’s “low and dirty” to listen to what a minister says. As you make up nonsense about the BBC again.

    How dare the message not be as you demand it!

  19. Leon Wolfeson

    And why do you think Labour keep bleeding votes to “Not voting”?

  20. Guest

    “like the one Labour inflicted on those of us that have to rent privately”

    Er no, does not exist.

  21. Leon Wolfeson

    Factually incorrect. Sanctions have risen massively since the Tories took over. Several orders of magnitude.

    Thing is, Labour won’t reverse it.

  22. Leon Wolfeson

    But Labour won’t change a thing back, except as you note the bedroom tax.

  23. clivegsd

    Er yes it does, it goes by the title Local Housing Allowance, it hits disabled people in the exact same way the Tory BR tax does

  24. Selohesra

    Leon I presume – trying to go anonymous again #cowardly
    Trouble is BBC did not listen to what he was saying which was that perhaps state could aid some of the most severely disabled that employers would otherwise overlook as they might not feel they were getting value at £10 per hour – no suggestion at all they anyone would be forced to work for £2 per hour or survive on that level of income. Much easier to simply parrot the Labour line as per usual and run with this non-story.

  25. clivegsd

    Makes no difference, both versions are being driven by Freud, they would have risen had Labour stayed in power, Freud also wanted a version of universal credit

  26. Leon Wolfeson

    So facts make no difference?

  27. clivegsd

    It makes no difference because Freud is the driving force, the “facts” are that Freud would have upped the sanctions had Labour stayed in power. Read the Freud report FFS and see the direction that tosser was going

  28. Leon Wolfeson

    Okay, well, tell the vast number of people sanctioned.

    The facts are that they climbed under the coalition and not labour, there’s no evidence Labour were going to move in that particular direction at the time.

  29. clivegsd

    FFS Freud was used by Labour in the same way the Tories are using him now.
    He wanted to bring in a form of universal credit!
    He had set out his blueprint for how things were going to be when working for Labour!
    Labour were going in this direction, how bloody obtuse are you?
    Read the report then look at what the Tories are doing and you can see Freud’s shitty fingerprints pointing to higher sanctions whoever was in power employing his sorry ass.
    The number being sanctioned now is because Lord thought of this ‘self-professed dodgy merchant banker’ as someone with a clue as to benefits and the unemployed. Rather than telling the vast number of people sanctioned that it is the Tories fault tell them that Labour started the rot.
    Or just stick to your ‘Tories are evil/Labour are good’ way of thinking, because it’s that naivety and refusal to look backwards that is fucking up the country nowadays

  30. Guest

    Keep defending the massive rise in sanctions, as you defend shit-smearing.

    I look at actions, and refuse to be stuck in the past as you are. I am not a Labourite as you are apparently Tory.

  31. Guest

    You’re complaining about housing benefit in general, I get it. No, the existence of housing benefit does not work as you claim.

  32. Guest

    You’re “Leon”? I see, thanks self-described Coward.

    And you magic up £10 an hour, when the NMW is nowhere near, and all disabled people could choose to starve in the street and die instead of work for that income, too, as you call the proposal you clearly like and defend a non-story.

  33. Selohesra

    Yep – alcoholic ramblings – sure sign of Leon Wolfson (not Carter)

  34. clivegsd

    I defend nothing of the sort, I’m pointing you at where these sanctions come from, wipe the shit out of your eyes, open your blinkered mind and use your common sense.

    Calling me a Tory would be one of the worst insults I can imagine. I see the faults in the Tories AND in Labour and would not be stupid enough to defend Labour because the Tories are worst, both are equally responsible, got that now?

  35. Guest

    So you’re backing away now. And stop throwing shit at me, and stop demanding I think just like you.

    Correct, you’ve noticed I’m being offensive to you, because you were equally as offensive to be by calling me a Labourite.

    That you equate the a minister’s statement in 2014 with an old paper in 2003 which never got any traction…is a false equivalence.

    Moreover, factually sanctions have risen. You’re in denial. Hence, I call you a Tory. There’s plenty to blame Labour for which they actually did!

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