Earlier this week a random selection of people claiming Incapacity Benefit in Burnley and Aberdeen began the process of undertaking a Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
A WCA involves a questionnaire and short medical that will allow a health professional to assess whether an individual is fit to work or not. If a person is considered fit to work they will move on to Jobseekers Allowance and will be expected to look for work. If they fail, they will be placed on Employment and Support Allowance, which is replacing Incapacity Benefit and is the benefit all new disabled claimants unfit to work have received since October 2008.
The Government says that they are carrying out the WCA trials in Aberdeen and Burnley, to be followed by a UK wide roll out in the spring of 2011, because “it is unacceptable that so many people have been written off to a lifetime on benefits.” With such attitudes in mind it would appear that this is the perfect opportunity to address the multitude of factors that restrict the employment opportunities for disabled people.
In July, Trailblazers launched Right to Work, a report that highlighted the many challenges faced by disabled people looking for work. Many of the people involved in the research are highly qualified graduates, who, now in the job market, can’t find an employer to take them on. Indeed our research found that one in seven disabled graduates had never been in paid employment by the age of 26. This is a particularly concerning statistic at a time when the Equalities and Human Rights Commission are announcing that the number of disabled people entering university is higher than ever before but also that 46 % of disabled people aged between 22-24 are not in employment, education or training.
Right to Work went against the grain of much that has been published in the media and repeated by politicians in recent times. All too often it seems that disabled people are represented as either scroungers or helpless individuals who need handouts. Our surveys showed that many disabled people desperately want to work, but can’t find jobs that they can do. This could be because an office building or the public transport they require is inaccessible, an employer discriminates against disabled applicants or the employer won’t allow flexible or part time working patterns that could enable a disabled person to work.
This is the crux of the matter and where the Work Capability Assessment and the move towards getting people off IB and into work is missing the point by failing to acknowledge the real-life context. For many disabled people it can be almost impossible to find, obtain and retain employment, due to inaccessible workplaces, transport and employer attitude. The question now must be, where are the jobs?
The answer appears to be, nobody knows, so those who want to work but are selected to move on to ESA or Jobseeker’s Allowance will continue to face the same social barriers to employment they experienced prior to their WCA.
Those who are considered fit to work will move on to Jobseekers Allowance and be expected to find work. They will, as mentioned before, continue to face the same discrimination and barriers to work they faced when applying for work on Incapacity Benefit, only now they will lose almost a third of their weekly income, severely hampering their search for employment. Those who are genuinely ‘scrounging’ IB will not face the same challenges, and once in the job market will have a distinct advantage over disabled candidates. Is this what the Government means when they talk about fairness and us all being ‘in it together’?
So, with the expected significant migration of people into the job market it is essential that Government and employers work with groups like Trailblazers and develop and promote schemes like Access to Work and Disability Clearkit that can help to create a level playing field for disabled job seekers. To see what Trailblazers recommends I suggest you read the key recommendations of Right to Work.