The Nightmare Before Christmas – Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability.

In the furore about whether the Grinch really did steal Christmas Universal Credit claimants will miss out on money during the Christmas period you may have missed that the government yesterday published “Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability”.

This follows on from last years consultation on proposals to close the “disability employment gap”, which itself derived from the “Improving Lives: work, health and disability green paper” to which the government responded yesterday.

The proposals are nicely summarised at gov.uk but we’ll repeat them here for the sake of completeness. This includes:

  • Extending fit note certification beyond GPs to a wider group of healthcare professionals, including physiotherapists, psychiatrists and senior nurses, to better identify health conditions and treatments to help workers go back into their jobs faster. Fit notes are designed to help patients develop a return to work plan tailored to their individual needs.
  • Conducting large-scale employment research pilots in West Midlands and Sheffield which will include over 11,000 people. This research will gather evidence to help improve services for those with health conditions, supporting them get into and stay in work, and helping make sure services are accessible and inclusive for all.
  • 2,000 work coaches have received training since 2015 to help them work with benefit claimants with mental health conditions. The government is committed to building on this with the introduction of an enhanced training offer developed with a national mental health charity.
    £39 million investment to more than double the number of employment advisors in an existing NHS programme treating people with depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Responding in full to the 40 recommendations of the Stevenson/Farmer Review of mental health and employers – including reforming Statutory Sick Pay, improving advice and support for employers and encouraging transparency. The government is also encouraging other employers to take forward these recommendations.
  • Over 5,000 companies have signed up to the Disability Confident scheme to promote disability inclusion and government is encouraging more companies to sign up.
  • Appointing an Expert Working Group on Occupational Health to champion, shape and drive a programme of work to take an in-depth look at the sector.

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke described this as “…an ambitious 10-year strategy to end this injustice once and for all. By bringing employers, the welfare system and health services together we’re taking significant steps to ensure everyone can reach their potential”.

GMWRAG was fascinated to note on page 50 of the document all the “progress” thought to have taken place since the green paper. Key amongst these are things GMWRAG members already know to simply not be working anywhere near what was intended such as the introduction of a digital DS1500 to increase process speed for terminally ill customers, and, the “health and work conversation”.

GMWRAG notes the conspicuous intent to “fix” MSEs within the NHS but with no comparable intent with regard to assessment providers for ESA. We note the complete failure to address the lack of coherence in provision of support for disabled people. We note the total failure to recognise significant structural issues within the benefit system which act as a fundamental barrier to employment including a reduction in the scope of in-work and disability benefits such as the removal of a payment for being in the work-related activity group.

We note the lack of any recognition that equally fundamental deficiencies in public and door to door transport might be a significant barrier to employment. The continuing insistence on describing support as “specialist” when it patently is not and, finally, we note the recognition that only 6% of fit notes talk about people being able to do any kind of work without any corresponding analysis of whether that is actually a reflection of the reality of being a disabled person in the UK.

In short GMWRAG cannot see any way in which any of the above proposals, interesting as they are in isolation, will make even the slightest dent in the disability employment gap.

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