As the new government starts to get itself into gear, one of its key policies seems to be welfare reform and getting people into work – but getting it right, especially for people with disabilities or mental health problems will not be easy.
The idea of welfare reform and ending dependency on it is good – and some would say long overdue – but it has to be ensured that it is fair, especially for people with disabilities or mental health problems who are currently receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)/Incapacity Benefit (IB).
While most people with disabilities or mental health problems want to either return to or gain paid employment, some are not capable of it. Others are capable, but only perhaps certain jobs or part-time hours.
However, the Work Capability Assessment, which determines if someone is capable of work – if they are deemed capable, they are moved onto the £25-a-week lower rate Jobseekers Allowance rather than ESA/IB – is flawed, some groups claim.
For instance, Neil Coyle of the Disability Alliance, calls the Work Capability Assessment ‘unfair and ineffective’ in today’s Daily Mirror.
Meanwhile, Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, says “the current test is not up to the job of measuring whether people with mental health problems are fit for work.”
The test was trialled among new claimants at the end of 2008, and involves rigorous medical assessments carried out by an independent company. Of the 500,000 tested, only 9% remained on ESA. This test is now set to be rolled out to all 2.6 million claimants.
But this worries Farmer, fearing that people with mental health problems will be incorrectly assessed. “We urge our new Government to review the benefit assessment… so that people aren’t deprived of their benefit and forced to look for work they can’t do.
“Work can be good for mental health, but only when it is suited to the individual. The Government has proposed to sanction anyone turning down ‘reasonable offers of employment’, but people should not be forced to accept work that risks damaging their mental health, putting them back on benefits and back at square one. Sanctioning people who can’t secure an appropriate job misses the point about why they are locked out of work in the first place.”
There are other wrinkles in the government’s plan to get people into work; we are just coming out of a long and deep recession and jobs are scarce and very competitive – 2.5 million people are unemployed remember.
Despite all the efforts of various schemes to tackle stigma against people with disabilities, it does still exist; two thirds of employers are unwilling to offer someone with mental health issues a job, according to Farmer.
A solution that is fair for everyone will not be easy, but if the government is to stick to David Cameron’s quote that ‘that those who can should and those who can’t we will always help’, then this needs to be got right and concerns from such groups need to be considered, to avoid the problems that could arise from trying to get people into jobs that are not suited to them.