With the ongoing failure of employment and support allowance and the work programme to get more disabled people into work, Sue Marsh, one of the disabled campaigners behind a new report, has urged government to implement an alternative vision.
Beyond the Barriers attempts to address the nightmare that is the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). From the point of becoming sick, through all the stages of ESA, the report analyses not just how ESA fails people, but also how the promised support fails people too.
None of this is new, or news. It is a topic that is discussed at length on forums and in the national press, and in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
The essential difference with our report is that it aims to find solutions to the failings of ESA and the back to work programs. It draws on the experiences of 1200 disabled people in the UK and of sickness and disability strategies used by governments around the world.
The solutions are not radical, in fact at this moment in time this government has already put some of these solutions into practise for select groups of people. For instance, Remploy workers who lost their jobs received funding for the aids and equipment they needed as part of a specialist scheme to encourage large employers to take them on. 50 per cent of them found work. The cost worked out at about £5000 per person compared to payments of up to £13.5 thousand per person paid to providers of the work programme who place someone in employment. As we argue in our report, the best support is cheaper than inadequate support.
Beyond the Barriers puts forward a number of recommendations which we think would increase disabled people’s job prospects. These include ensuring that disabled people can access the highest level of education and training they aspire to because we know that education and training is the best way to tackle the employment gap.
We would also like to see true flexible working: not just part time or full time or insecure zero-hours contracts, but flexible working in terms of where and how we work.
Pushing self-employment for disabled people should not be an excuse for government to neglect workplace inclusion. But local co-operatives and business support networks could be better used to make use of our entrepreneurial skills.
Implementation of these strategies, and a complete change to the nature of the whole ESA process, would relieve the stress and uncertainty that currently blights the lives of so many of us.
Happier people are healthier people, so isn’t it about time that this or any future government considers the existing destructive and damaging system?
As we prepared to launch Beyond the Barriers, it was telling that the only element of existing support which received almost unanimous praise from the people involved in our report was Disabled Student Allowances (DSAs). We talk about them in the Future of Work Chapter. But as we launched the report, David Willetts, the higher education minister, announced that they would be scaled back and restricted.
It seems that there is to be no stone left unturned as we watch so many schemes and structures which we rely on reduced and diminished. But no longer passively or helplessly.
The Spartacus Network is attempting to change the debate. Please help us by reading and sharing Beyond the Barriers.