Today, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions made a speech on disability and the welfare system with the intention of "changing the landscape for disabled people in Britain".
Last week we published new research which showed disabled people face a startling inequality in living standards, driven by the excessive payments many end up making for essential goods and services. Disabled people tell us everyday about the challenges they face as a result of the welfare system not working in their favour, of the excessive costs they have to make for everyday essentials, and the host of barriers of getting into and staying in work.
It’s vital that Government action on disability, welfare and employment looks to address these issues.
How far will what was announced go to do this?
Scope Chief Executive Mark Hogkinson said:
“It is right that today’s speech from the Secretary of State seeks to address some of the many barriers disabled people face in Britain today, but far more progress needs to be made before disabled people are truly equal.”
The current Government first set out its work to tackle disability unemployment in 2017 so it is positive it is continuing to progress this, and it is welcome that there is recognition that there are aspects of the welfare system that are in need of reform.
Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State, said "This government, therefore, intends to change the landscape for disabled people in Britain."
Improving the welfare system, tackling disability unemployment and working with disabled people is vital to make this happen.
Personal Independence Payment
There was a welcome commitment to stop reassessments for people who are over 65 and are receiving PIP. It’s right that the Government are taking steps to address this. However, with over 2 in 3 PIP decisions at appeal being overturned, there needs to be much bolder reform.
PIP is a vital benefit for many disabled people who face extra costs. But disabled people tell us that the assessment process currently fails to identify the true extra costs they face, and it is leading to too many incorrect decisions.
Over the past 12 months we have seen small improvements to PIP for some groups, but it will take much more comprehensive change to make sure PIP is fit for purpose for the millions of disabled people who receive it.
The Secretary of State also announced trials to look at how to combine the assessments for PIP and ESA into one integrated service from 2021. This has the potential to be positive news for disabled people who go through both the PIP assessment and the Work Capability Assessment and are asked for the same information at different and face multiple face-to-face assessments. We know that the current process is stress-inducing, and needs to be made simpler.
However, it’s vital that Government recognise that assessments can and do go wrong and if a single assessment for two benefits goes wrong, the impact on the living standards of an individual could be much more severe.
At Scope we think its important the DWP listen to disabled people and those who are going through assessments when implementing any changes to improve the process.
Also announced was a commitment to review the current Government target of getting one million more disabled people into work by 2027. This target was set in 2017 and replaced the previous commitment to halve the disability employment gap. It is encouraging that the Government plans to be more ambitious. At Scope we know that disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed as the general public and face multiple barriers to entering and progressing in work.
A review of this target is welcome. However, for every 100 disabled people who move into work 114 disabled people move out of work. And the disability employment gap has barely shifted in the last decade. So whatever the target is, swift action needs to be taken to address the underlying issues. Which is why it is welcome that a consultation on measures such as reforming sick pay and occupational health in work were also announced today.
Government focus must now be on not only getting disabled people into work but on making sure people can stay in work too.
Working with disabled people
Finally, the Secretary of State also set out her intentions to be ‘guided by the disabled community as we work together to provide the opportunities and support people deserve and expect’.
Disabled people must be properly listened to and involved in policy making that affects their lives.
Overall, meaningful policy and legal change must be delivered if Britain’s 14 million disabled people are to be equal in society. There remains a huge amount of work to be done to tackle the barriers disabled people face getting into work, in improving the welfare system to support disabled people rather than punish them and, ending the financial penalty disabled people in Britain face today. At Scope we will continue to hold Government to account, and following the details of today’s announcement closely to make sure this happens.