Today the Government announced its latest statistics on how many people have been denied Employment and Support Allowance. Only 22% of people in the last quarter were found eligible for ESA. Commenting on these statistics, Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: "These figures show just how vital it is that everyone who has the potential to work receives the right help and support".
Except that statement just doesn't add up when you look at other measures the Government is taking. 2011 will be the year that disabled people, and those with long term ill-health will find it almost impossible to find work.
The Government is planning to scrap Disability Living Allowance and replace it with Personal Independence Payment. In its budget last year it already announced it expects to save at least 20% from the DLA budget. This is before it has worked out any criteria to reassess claimants. Worryingly the Government is confused over whether DLA helps claimants work or prevents them from working, a contradiction apparent throughout its reform paper. Yesterday the Disability Alliance announced the interim findings to its survey of DLA claimants, finding that 50% of respondents would have to quit work or cut their hours if their DLA payments were reduced.
Secondly, the Government has been changing the rules of entitlement to the Access to Work fund, effectively implementing cuts to a benefit without bothering to tell anyone. Access to Work is a dedicated resource that can pay towards any additional employment costs associated with disability. The Government has reassessed what the fund will help cover and has decided that it will no longer fund such items as analogue hearing aids and voice-activated software. It argues that it is the responsibility of the employer to pay for such items under its lawful requirement to make 'reasonable adjustments' to the work place. However, this is clearly unlikely in current circumstances. With profits tight and unemployment high, employers will bulk at hiring someone that will cost them money that they just don't have.
Finally, a report today suggests that private companies are already pulling out of the Government's back to work scheme. Companies such Avanta, Reed and Setec have declined to bid for high-risk areas such as the West Midlands as they believe that they will be unable to make a profit in such regions, so dire are the employment prospects. If these companies are cherry-picking which areas it will work in, surely they will also cherry pick which of their unemployed 'clients' they will focus most of their attention on? I can't see someone with a long history of ill-health and hard-to-explain gaps on their CV being top of their profit-driven list.
So dear Government, I ask you - Do you have a cohesive plan at all for disabled people? With one hand you push them into the work environment, while with the other hand you simultaneously take away all support to help them find work. According to the Disabled Alliance, disabled people are already twice as likely to live in poverty compared to any other sectors of society - I presume your only plan is to increase this figure to 100%?