The disability & employment agenda in 2016

I’m now back after my brief time in DWP – and it’s great to be able to blog freely again! So much has happened since last autumn, that I thought I’d return to blogging by putting together a list of links of things that link to the Government’s aim of halving the disability employment gap (I’ll try to keep this updated as the debate develops):

  • Government itself – the Conservative manifesto 2015 committed the Government to halving the disability employment gap, and the Budget 2015 promised a White Paper – a statement of planned Government policy – early in 2016. However, after IDS’ resignation, the new Secretary of State Stephen Crabb has signalled that this will instead be a Green Paper – a consultation on possible policies – to take place later in 2016 (probably in the autumn at the soonest). DRUK have warned that this might mean a watering down of possible actions, which was the same argument behind the Labour Party’s recent Parliamentary debate. While it’s too early to judge, it’s clear that the focus is likely to be on gaining knowledge rather than reducing the gap in the short-term – Stephen Crabb said (before being replaced by Damian Green) that his aim is that “by the end of the Parliament [in 2020] we will be pretty well advanced in terms of new policy thinking”.
  • Disability Rights UK (DRUK) have a number of reports in this area, particularly around peer support (where they have reviewed 50 practice examples alongside a Work Foundation report on their likely effectiveness), but also with their responses to various inquiries on disability and work. And the faith-based think-tank Ekklesia has a report on the WCA based on disabled people’s reported barriers by the excellent Stef Benstead – their grassroots consultation should be coming out soon.
  • Scope were one of the groups that pushed the Government to make their original commitment, and their most recent report has three sets of recommendations (also summarised here). Firstly, there should be much better employment support for disabled people (including personal budgets and an innovation fund for DPOs). Second, disabled people should be ‘connected to growth’ through local economic development strategies. Finally, more flexible workplaces need to be created by giving people the option of time-limited part-time sick leave – building on Finnish evidence on how it helps people return-to-work.
  • The Work Foundation launched a report in May 2016 that focusses on helping disabled people to find work. They include a series of detailed recommendations including better payments to subcontractors that reflect people’s actual barriers, expanding the availability of Work Choice, testing IPS approaches, and better local-level coordination. IPPR North also launched a report in July 2016 on the Work & Health Programme, suggesting that local joint venture companies should be set up on an ‘invest to save’ basis (and also suggesting personalised assessment).
  • The Resolution Foundation launched a report in June 2016 that (conversely) focuses on job retention and the role of employers, rather than getting people back into work. Their most striking recommendations are for a 1yr ‘right to return’ period for jobs after the start of sickness absence (building on maternity policy), and a rebate in Statutory Sick Pay for firms who help employees to return from long-term absence.
  • The think-tank Reform have been active in this area, partly led by Charlotte Pickles, a former special advisor to IDS. Their Feb 2016 report Working Welfare set out a range of interesting suggestions for incapacity benefits, though it is much more pro-conditionality than Matt Oakley’s SMF report that came out slightly later (and also his follow-up report). More recently, Reform released Stepping Up, Breaking Barriers, proposing a plan for outsourcing and devolution around the Work & Health Programme.
  • The Work and Pensions Parliamentary Select Committee is currently holding an inquiry on the Disability employment gap – the first session of collecting evidence begins later today.
  • The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Disability has a call for evidence out (deadline next Monday) on the disability employment gap, on the themes of business networks, self-employment, R&D grants, procurement, growth sectors, and organisational policies.
  • It’s also worth being aware that Citizen’s Advice are doing a major project in this area at the moment, of which this August 2016 infographic is a small taster. The TUC are doing analyses like this [added 11/7/16], and (as always) the Disability Benefits Consortium are being very active.
  • There’s also a huge range of other people and organisations with interesting things to say – just to take other people who submitted evidence to the Select Committee inquiry, there’s Inclusion Scotland, Inclusion London, Breakthrough UK, Macmillan, Mencap, Arthritis Research UK, Sense, the MS Society, the National Autistic Society, Rethink, Leonard Cheshire, Muscular Dystrophy UK, Parkinson’s UK, RNIB, Action for ME, the EHRC, the LGA, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Learning and Work Institute, the TUC, Remploy, ERSA (including a joint submission with homelessness charities), Shaw Trust, the College for OTs, the Business Disability Forum and many more.

Given that the Rethinking Incapacity project is focussed on the WCA, I should also add that nearly everyone thinks that the WCA should be overhauled (this being particularly mentioned in the latest reports by Scope and the Work Foundation, but also mentioned by pretty much everyone in debates in the past few years).

As I said, this is an ongoing list, so if you think I’ve missed any major contributions to the debate then just let me know and I’ll add these ASAP!

What do you think?