Thursday 16 February 2017

Piercing the Smokescreen

The submission phase of the DWP consultation on the Work and Health Green Paper closes tomorrow, 17th February at 11:45pm (!?!). Submissions can still be made at via an online form. That only the online form is available for submission is probably a hint as to just how attention the Green Paper shows to the actual needs of disabled people.

The Spartacus Network has just released a comprehensive (237 page) response to the Work and Health Green Paper with clinically dissects it to reveal it for what it is, a smokescreen. I’m listed as a co-author to the report, because it incorporates my ‘Ticked Off’ analysis of the critical weaknesses of the Disability Confident scheme that was originally published here on Where’s the Benefit?, but that’s a tiny fraction of the full report and the real credit goes to Caroline Richardson and Stef Benstead as the two principle authors.

The Spartacus report brands the Green Paper a smokescreen because it is supposed to address the government’s pledge to halve the Disability Employment Gap, which sees disabled employment running at nearly half the rate of non-disabled employment. As any disabled person can tell you, the gap exists because of society’s attitude towards disabled people in general, and because of blatant disability discrimination in recruitment and the workplace in particular. But this is a Tory government and god forbid an employer might ever do anything wrong. So if the problem can’t be with the employers or society, then obviously the problem must be with us. 

In order to erect that smokescreen the Green Paper spends a great deal of time implying disability isn’t actually that much of a barrier to work and proposes to step up a gear in trying to compel disabled people to find a job. Beyond the already announced 30% cut in ESA, because clearly it’ll be easier to find a job if you can’t heat your house or feed yourself, Work and Health proposes forcing people in the ESA Support Group, even those who are terminally ill, to undertake at least some work-related activity. Bizarrely it aims to reduce the funding available to the Work Programme subcontractors on a per person basis, while proposing that unqualified ‘work coaches’ be able to overrule GPs on patient’s health and treatment, and insisting that GPs should recognise that good health can only be achieved through work. One wonders how they explain the country’s 16 million pensioners?

When it comes to addressing the reality that the problem lies with employers, and society, the green paper mentions the word discrimination precisely twice, and one of those references is in relation to a non-governmental scheme. How can you seriously discuss halving the Disability Employment Gap and not address the universally recognised problem of widespread discrimination?

To quote a senior recruitment industry professional of many years’ experience on my career prospects as a highly skilled engineer: “You need to understand that with your disability no private sector company will consider employing you, and precious few public sector employers either”. If even the recruitment industry admits they have a problem with disability discrimination, why won’t ministers?

The consultation might equally be branded a smokescreen, as even before the submission phase has closed DWP have announced that London and Manchester will be acting as DWP’s proxies to implement the Green Paper’s plans, which shows a real readiness to listen when disabled people tell them why those plans won’t work. The Mayor of London has welcomed the opportunity to get involved, but he probably hasn’t realised that DWP are likely hoping to spread the blame when Work and Health crashes and burns. And, of course, that 30% cut to ESA is bearing down on us like a ton of uncaring Tory bricks.

The floggings will continue until disability employment improves.