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TX: 22.09.03 – YOU AND YOURS SPECIAL – HOW CAN WE GET MORE DISABLED PEOPLE INTO WORK?
PRESENTER: PETER WHITE


WHITE
Hello, welcome to a special edition of You and Yours, in front of an invited audience here at Church House Conference Centre in Westminster. The issue: Why do less than half of Britain's disabled population have jobs? How do we remove the barriers stopping them gaining or retaining work? And what exactly are those barriers - is it prejudice, insufficient help, training and encouragement, the problems created by the benefits system? And in any case is work always the answer - is that the only way you can be regarded as a valued member of our society?

Well to help us we're joined by a panel of experts. On the platform we have the minister with special responsibility for disability Maria Eagle we have her Conservative shadow, Nigel Waterson Steven Alambreitas of the Federation of Small Businesses Dr Steven Duckworth, chief executive of Disability Matters, which advises and offers consultation to employers and provides training in the workplace for long term unemployed disabled people and Tania Burchardt of the London School of Economics, who's written extensively about employment and disability.

And you could find yourself applauding yourselves as well because we've got a pretty distinguished audience as well. Many people from the world of politics, business and those active in the disability movement.

So where are the missing million - or I suppose I should say where is the missing million? That's the title of a recent study of the subject by the centre left think tank - The Institute of Public Policy Research. And it's a title which refers to the often quoted statistic that there are a million disabled people without jobs who want them.

Well one of the authors of the report is Kate Stanley. Kate, in researching this report, I mean are there areas which surprised you or which you think will help people to understand the size and complexity of the problem?

STANLEY
I'm going to bombard you with statistics here. Just to give a sense of the scale and scope of this massive issue. As you've said over half of all disabled people are out of work. And over 3 million sick and disabled people of working age are claiming benefits. Now this number has trebled over the last 20 years and now represents a number substantially higher than the combined total of people who are unemployed and lone parents who are claiming benefits but doesn't get quite so much attention.

Last year 1.4 million of these disabled people claiming benefits said they wanted to work soon but a year on they still weren't in work.

And finally I just wanted to say something else which I found quite surprising which is the majority of people are actually in work when they become disabled but one in six of those people actually fall out of employment within a year of acquiring a disability.

WHITE
So who are the real people who make up those kinds of statistics? Let's begin by hearing the experience of one disabled man - Barry Brookes - who says that he wants to work, has wanted to work but often, over the last few years, he can't. Barry.

BROOKES
I was a qualified engineer in what I call my previous life until I was modified by a drink/driver 10 years ago. I was highly qualified, I was at the top of my tree in the engineering trade and worked for a very large multinational company. And it went from that status, after 18 months in intensive care and leaving hospital, to not being supported by the company, being unemployed, losing my house, my wife leaving me, what they call a life changing event I believe. There was no training possibility, I think I was offered watch repairing or basket weaving as therapy or retraining. And there was no support from the company or understanding of what I was going through. So it was kind of a - not just an uphill battle but a huge chasm that opens up. I decided to sort of make my own way and went back to university, re-qualified, retrained completely to a white collar worker, I'm now director of a disability charity in London, having volunteered for the last five years when I couldn't get work and a lot of that has been the fact that you reach barriers where you can't actually get employment. I've had probably 150 interviews and I would describe what's called institutional discrimination, I think is a good description for it, and it covers just about everything. But if you're a wheelchair user or a black wheelchair user or a lesbian chain smoking wheelchair user you have the same problems.

WHITE
Can I ask you Barry - given all these experiences, I asked at the beginning what were the main causes of this, I mean what do you think it is? You're describing a kind of institutional prejudice, is this something that's in people's heads - how would you characterise it?

BROOKES
I think from the employer's point of view there's this fear that there's some major responsibility both financially and otherwise that you're going to commit them to. Most of them are quite supportive, it's just lack of knowledge.

WHITE
Barry Brookes thank you very much.

Now I want to go to Tania Burchardt - how common a story is Barry's? You've written extensively on this subject.

BURCHARDT
Yes well unfortunately it is all too common, as Kate referred to in the introduction the problem of job retention or rather lack of job retention for disabled people is one of the main causes, I think, of low employment rates amongst disabled people altogether. So we've already heard that one in six disabled people who become disabled whilst in work lose their job within a year. So that means that that relationship with an employer has broken down completely, that person may then spend some quite considerable time on benefits, during which time their skills are going to becoming more out of date, they're losing touch with the labour market and it's going to be even more of an uphill struggle to get them back into work at some point later.

WHITE
And yet in recent years we seem to have been hearing more about training, we've heard all about anti-discrimination legislation. I think I'm right Barry's accident happened about 10 years ago, would he be any better off, if I can put it that way, if his accident had happened now?

BURCHARDT
Well unfortunately I'm not sure that he would be. There certainly has, in the very recent past, in the last year or so, been an increasing recognition of this issue of job retention but until very recently most policies to help disabled people who are out of work have been really directed at more encouragement, more yes you really can do it, you can get a job, that kind of advice, rather than supporting people at the point where they become disabled whilst they still have an existing relationship with an employer. And I think that's the key point at which we need to start intervening, much more directly, much more actively in terms of policy.

WHITE
I just want to go very quickly to Dr Steven Duckworth because Steven you're at the sharp end of this problem - you advise people who are long term unemployed - are you - I mean obviously you're not surprised at Barry's story but are things getting any better?

DUCKWORTH
Well no I think just to comment on Barry's story to begin with, I think what he explained is very typical of what many disabled people experience but from hearing Barry speak he's a highly motivated individual, he's committed to go back to university to retrain and even so he's found 150 employers turn him down at job application.

WHITE
So you're sort of saying how much worse would it be if he wasn't highly motivated.

DUCKWORTH
Well exactly, I mean I was in a similar situation myself 22 years ago when I had an accident and I think that the - I had - retrained, re-qualified and similarly went for advice about employment and the same barriers that existed then, so what worried me 22 years ago is still happening 10 years ago, still appears to be happening now - it's like that film The Groundhog Days where everything keeps repeating itself.

BURCHARDT
I think it's important, if I can just come in here, to recognise that there's nothing inevitable about this because we do have examples from other countries, for example in Germany, where job retention rates amongst people who become disabled are much higher. So this isn't an impossible problem, it's just one that we haven't cracked here.

WHITE
Right, we will come back to the issue of job retention.

One of the many myths about disability - and there are a lot - is that most of us with disabilities are born with them, well I was but most people aren't, in fact only 20 per cent of people have had their impairments from birth, this means that a high proportion of people become disabled whilst at work. It also means the help and support that they receive in the months and years following disability is crucial. But how good is the medical profession, the rehabilitation profession at recognising the importance of the link between successful rehab and the workplace? Well Dr Miranda Whitehead is GP advisor to something called the Switch On to Success Project, it's based in Portsmouth and aims to help disabled people get back to work and fulfil their job potential. Dr Whitehead tell us a bit more about it.

WHITEHEAD
Yes this is a partnership between the Portsmouth Primary Care Trust, Portsmouth city council and the social services. And we're focussing on enabling people with disabilities to return to work often after years on benefit and we're having a lot of success - about 63 per cent of our beneficiaries are in work or training now. And my job has been to interview, as an ex-GP, has been to interview GPs in Portsmouth and ask them what they think about the role of the NHS and getting people back to work and it's been pretty illuminating I can tell you. They're pretty ignorant of the benefit system, there's not much communication between doctors and disability employment advisors at job centres, there's a great gap there. And GPs felt people were ending up on benefits because they aren't getting earlier enough investigation and treatment from the NHS. They felt that intervention should take place earlier, as soon as people are having problems - this is what Tania said wasn't it - before they lose their job and the habit of work. And if it was left until people were claiming incapacity benefit it's much harder to get them back to work for all sorts of reasons.

WHITE
Is there still this feeling that politicians have identified that we had in the kind '80s and '90s where there was a lot of places where the work was disappearing, manufacturing industries were dropping out and the most helpful thing you could do was to get somebody on to incapacity benefit - do people still think that that's the case?

WHITEHEAD
Absolutely and I felt the same way when I was a GP, I'm rather ashamed to say, but doctors felt the best they could do for people was to - with disabilities and particularly with poor job prospects - was to get them on to - safely on to incapacity benefit.

WHITE
Is there anything you think should be done to help GPs do their job better? You're going to say money aren't you.

WHITEHEAD
I feel if they could liaise more with the job centres, with the disability employment advisors, I think that would be a big start actually, I think that is a gap.

WHITE
Right. Let me bring in Maria Eagle. Do you think that there perhaps ought to be more resources put into rehabilitation? I mean there's been a lot of money put into the NHS recently, so we're always being told, how much of that goes into rehab?

EAGLE
Well not as much as is needed if you're going to give rehab to everybody who needs it. It has been a Cinderella part of the NHS in the past, I think it would be - it's obviously the case that the NHS has concentrated on acute and dealing with sudden emergencies and hasn't necessarily dealt with things like rehabilitation as well as it's dealt with other things. It's interesting what's being said by Dr Whitehead and what you said, Peter, about people being shaken out of industry in the past on to sickness and incapacity benefits and certainly the figures indicate that that's the case - a 300 per cent increase between '79 and '97, when we saw a lot of closing down of older industries …

WHITE
But isn't the figure still going up when the economy is performing well?

EAGLE
Yes, yes what's happening is that the increase has slowed significantly, which is quite something actually, the increase is down over the last six years to about eight and a half per cent increase. But one of the reasons why we've done Pathways to Work and we're looking at bringing together rehab, particularly out of primary care in the NHS, and our job based, work based interventions that Job Centre Plus can do in the Pathways into Work pilot areas and there's extra money for this Peter - £100 million of extra money for these pilots to see what impact just this kind of intervention at this stage will have on the flow into incapacity benefit. And I think - I'm very excited about these pilots.

WHITE
Some people feel that intervention might turn into coercion.

EAGLE
No because - no there's not coercion, what there is, is bringing together of Job Centre Plus personal advisor help and we're becoming much better in the DWP and Job Centre Plus now at providing personal advice that helps deal with individual people's individual difficulties, instead of treating everybody like square pegs in round holes and trying to bash them into a particular shape.

WHITE
Can I just bring in Nigel Waterson. Do you have any policies that will improve this, would you be anymore likely with your policies to get a job for Barry Brookes?

WATERSON
Well we've recently brought out a pamphlet with many of the conclusions, funnily enough, of the IPPR, called Left Out, Left Behind about this missing million or so. I mean I think there are two big issues here where the system is pulling in totally different directions. We've heard about the lack of rehabilitation within the system, within the NHS, but also if you talk to a lot of people with disabilities and disability organisations there are barriers within the benefit system to people getting back into work, they're worried that if they - because the benefit system has changed for people with disabilities, if they get back into a job and it doesn't work out they'll be worse off as a result. And also there are real concerns about access to the job centres - Job Centre Plus in particular - not only in terms of geographic access but whether it's user friendly for people with disabilities, it's quite difficult, I gather, for the visually impaired for example. And also people are concerned that going to the job centre to have, what is called, a work focused interview is really about the black and white issue - can you work or can you not work? - rather than looking sort of in the round at that particular person's needs and abilities.

WHITE
Right, you raised the issue of benefits and that's where I want to go next. Some of the rhetoric about reducing the numbers on benefits with veiled references to scroungers and malingerers has led some people, as we've said, to wonder whether government policy's got more to do with getting numbers on benefit down than it has to do with getting disabled people into fulfilling and inclusive jobs. How far, for instance, does the benefit system, with its rules about minimum hours to be worked and maximum amounts you're allowed to earn before it affects your benefit, how far would that encourage people, nervous about going back to work full time, to give it a try? Lorna Reith, of the Disability Alliance, has long experience advising both government and disabled people about the benefit system. Lorna.

REITH
Well my particular concern is people who have the ability to do a limited number of hours work a week and we come across quite a lot of people, disabled people, who are very keen to work but because of the particular condition they have, whether it's pain or fatigue or medical treatment that they need during the week, aren't able to do the 16 hours that is necessary to get you into the tax credit - the scope of tax credits. If you can't top up part time earnings then working isn't viable. And at the bottom end you're only allowed to earn £20 a week. Now there are schemes, temporary schemes, for people, they're a bit more flexible than that, and that's been very welcome but there doesn't seem to be anything in place for people who want to work but can only do a limited amount as a long term prospect and that's a group of people who've got a lot to contribute.

WHITE
What would you like to see?

REITH
You could approach it from two ways. One would be to lower the 16 hour threshold for tax credits and bring it down to 12 or 13 or something in that region. The other would be to up the amount that people are allowed to earn. Twenty pounds a week is only something like three and a half hours on a minimum wage, it's nothing really. What you need would be something nearer £35 or £40 a week so that people can do as much as they're able and have some support on top of that so that they've got an income that they can live on.

WHITE
Maria Eagle, let me put that point directly to you. I mean how much is the system driven by the desire to get people into rewarding work and how much by the desire to get the numbers of people off incapacity benefit. I mean isn't the danger that there's a fear here that you're more worried that people will stay on as low hours as they can and still get benefit rather than thinking, you know, at least we've got people working and shouldn't we be encouraging them by not taking their benefit away as quickly as we possibly can?

EAGLE
No our policy is not driven at all by trying to get people off incapacity benefit, indeed if our policy and that of previous governments had been driven by that over the last 25 years we'd have all failed pretty hugely. Our policy - and there are some flexibilities and Lorna Reith did make some reference to them - there are some flexibilities in the incapacity benefit rules such as permitted work and the linking rules which enable disabled people, for example the linking rules, if they have a fluctuating condition to try a job out for up to 52 weeks, if they're getting the disability element of working tax credit for up to two years and if it doesn't work out for them because of their condition they can go back on to the benefit where they were. Now that removes the fear. I sometimes find that people don't know about it and that often actually because of the long standing bad experience of disabled people with the benefit system over the last 10 or 20 years they tend to remember bad experiences from 10 or 15 years ago and think it's still the same. So there is an issue about getting advice to people who might benefit from some of these flexibilities. And I think there is an issue about that, but that's a job for Job Centre Plus, for organisations like Lorna's, who I'm sure, I know, does a good job in that regard.

WHITE
But that figure of £20 a week that you can earn before you start losing benefit - that's pretty pathetic isn't it.

EAGLE
I think there is an issue about those who feel like they can't work for 16 hours a week. Now remember a lot of disabled people, very many of them, could work for 16 hours a week and do take advantage of the flexibilities such as permitted work, supported permitted work, the linking rules, to try that out whilst retaining their benefit and being pretty clear that they know where they are and they don't have the fear of losing money as a disincentive. But there is an issue, I think, about people who don't feel like they can work for 16 hours, and I receive lots of representations about it, my officials and others are looking at what can be done in this regard, and we're very happy always to hear ideas from those who are working in the field about what might provide a solution to this because I do think there is an issue there.

WHITE
Well we'll ask three here. Nigel have you got any ideas for Maria?

WATERSON
Well Peter I mean I think it comes down to something as simple as this. I mean talking to people with disabilities I've heard them say - you're brought in for an interview and half of your brain is thinking well if I answer this question this particular way I might lose my benefits, the other half is saying I want to get back into work so I really want to give a different impression. And I think the government should look far more at organisations, outside organisations, like the Shaw Trust, for example, who do enormously good work helping and encouraging and getting lots and lots of people back into work who do have disabilities.

WHITE
Dr Steven Duckworth, what about the people who come to you - how many of those are inhibited by the benefit system?

DUCKWORTH
Well first of all I don't think I've met one that fully understands the whole system, so it's far too complicated. The next thing is that I think housing benefit is probably the principle issue that we hear disabled people talk about, as opposed to their incapacity benefit.

WHITE
Why, what - can you set out the problem for those who don't understand what it is?

DUCKWORTH
Well their biggest fear is that if they were to lose - if they were to move into employment then their housing benefit would be in jeopardy. I mean that may not be a reality but that's their belief system and I think the government's failed in actually getting the message across about the linkaging rule on to incapacity benefit and the extension - there's not been enough publicity about what's going on. What I would like to see is some sort of financial incentive to encourage disabled people to move back into work. And it would be quite simple, I believe, not being an accountant, to offer disabled people the opportunity for every £2 they earn for an employer to reduce their benefit by £1. The benefit, of course, being a non-taxable income and therefore equalising the imbalance of the £2 they might earn. So putting it on a sliding scale like that would incentivise people to earn more money.

WHITE
But can I go back very quickly to Maria - have you done the sums on that one?

EAGLE
We are introducing incentives in the Pathways into Work areas of an extra £40 a week return to work credit for those who get involved. The idea of individually making those sorts of adjustments person to person - one person's flexibility's my staffs administrative nightmare and you have to actually have a balance between that.

DUCKWORTH
Well I'm sorry but that's …

EAGLE
…we want a straightforward system that works for everybody not one that just clogs up and can't be administered.

DUCKWORTH
Maria, that's what your staff are paid for - to deal with that complexity - what we, as disabled people, want is a system that's flexible to meet our needs.

WHITE
Yeah, Lorna Reith.

REITH
I mean one possible suggestion to take away some of the risk that a lot of disabled people feel about losing benefit when moving into work and this is a particular problem for people with mental health problems and people with fluctuating conditions who get disability living allowance which of course you can get when you're in work. But their fear and I'm afraid often the reality is that moving into work immediately prompts the - your department to take their benefit away in the false belief that somehow because they've got a job they must have recovered. And for a lot of people, particularly people with mental health problems, actually moving into a new job can be an incredible stressful period - meeting new people, new journey to work, whole range of things - and a lot of people say to us that that's one of the things that they're terrified about. They understand losing their incapacity benefit, because after all that was to compensate them for not earning, but what they're really worried about is losing their disability living allowance. Our suggestion would be that people are given six months, when they move into a job, where there's a guarantee that their benefit, their disability living allowance, won't be reviewed. After that, fair enough, if their circumstances have changed and they don't qualify then they're not entitled. But to give people that sort of settling in period when they know that the one thing that isn't going to change is their disability living allowance.

WHITE
Minister, can I put the point to you, but based on in a way what Lorna Reith has just said, that there is a feeling that in a way there are two things going on simultaneously within the government, not only yours but previous administrations as well, where there are people like yourself coming up with initiatives, perhaps coming from the Treasury as well, coming up with things like the New Deal but at the same time you've also got people whose job seems to be to limit people's benefit, to be as suspicious as possible, to suspect that there's cheating going on and that those two things don't seem to match up.

EAGLE
Well I understand these fears that people sometimes have but I can assure you that whether or not you get DLA doesn't depend on whether or not you're in work. Now I can probably say that till I'm blue in the face and people who've had experiences might not believe me but we don't decide DLA on the basis of whether somebody's in work or not, you get it whether you're in work or out of work if the needs that you have for care or mobility are sufficient and so it's nothing to do with whether you're working or not.

WHITE
Right.

BURCHARDT
But I think …

WHITE
Tania Burchardt.

BURCHARDT
… the concern about your benefit status being reviewed arises long before the point at which someone actually moves into work. It's also a serious concern for people who are undertaking job seeking activity, perhaps for the first time after a period of years, that in itself can be seen as triggering a possible review of their benefit status and perhaps being moved from incapacity benefit on to job seekers allowance. So I think the sort of guarantee period, that Lorna was talking about for DLA after someone has moved into work, the same kind of idea could be applied to incapacity benefit when someone's engaged in job seeking - a guaranteed period in which their benefit status will not be reviewed and they can undertake that really crucial job seeking activity.

WHITE
We could talk about benefits for the whole of the programme but we won't, we will move on, there's more involved in this. We haven't yet talked much about employers and yet they, of course, and their attitudes, lie at the heart of this debate. The Disability Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against job applicants on the grounds of disability and employers now have a duty to make what's known as reasonable adjustments to welcome disabled people to the workplace, adjustments due to be considerably widened when further legislation comes into force a year from now. But have employers got the message? Alice Maynard is managing director of her own company - Future Inclusion - which advises employers on creating an inclusive working environment. Alice.

MAYNARD
I think employers' attitudes have actually changed over the past 10 years or so. Ten years ago it was quite common for an employer to be surprised that a disabled person might want to work, never mind be qualified to do so. So perhaps the DDA is having an impact but I have to say from my own experience and from what I've seen I no longer believe in the sorts of systems like the two tick symbol and equal opportunities recruitment processes - I don't think they work very well. I think what we need is for more mainstream employer organisations and professional bodies to be telling their members that they don't need to be afraid of employing disabled people, that there is much to be gained from it but of course they can't do that unless they're good employers of disabled people themselves. We also need diversity specialists to be putting disability more firmly on the diversity agenda because disability is somewhat of a poor relation in diversity - in the diversity arena.

WHITE
I'm not quite clear Alice, do you think things are better or not? You say there's been a change of attitude but we're also hearing that not many more people are getting jobs.

MAYNARD
I think there's been a change of attitude but I actually think that it hasn't shifted far enough. If you want it kind of summed up then 10 years ago you would have had employers saying - Disabled people, who wants to employ them? Whereas now you're getting employers saying - Well you're a very bright person and you've got a very impressive track record, I'm sure there's lots of opportunities for you out there but not here and not now.

WHITE
So let someone else do it. Alice Maynard thank you very much. We're now going to hear from Darren Burns, some of whose experiences in the workplace suggest that many employers perhaps just don't understand this concept of what's known as reasonable adjustment. Darren.

BURNS
Well I was employed three years ago by a disability charity, was on schemes like Work Steps, which gives the employer extra money for employing you. I wasn't getting what I needed under the scheme, I was advised by ACAS to make a formal complaint.

WHITE
Can you tell us what sort of things were going wrong?

BURNS
Well I was put at a work station that was next to an external door and I suffer with arthritis, so obviously very draughty, very cold, being bumped into all the time by people coming in and out. So the simple thing to do would be to move me to another work station, you would think, but no this wasn't to be. So obviously when you are in a new job the last thing you want to do is rock the boat but sometimes I think you have to when it's actually affecting your health. So I made a formal complaint and was fired within four weeks for making a complaint and this is a disability charity we're talking about and you would think that they would be at the forefront of disability equality.

WHITE
Let me bring in Steven Alambreitas of the Foundation of Small Businesses. Do you recognise the picture painted by Alice Maynard and Darren Burns, which suggests maybe that people - employers perhaps do want to help now more than they did but still perhaps are talking the language correctly but not offering the jobs necessarily?

ALAMBREITAS
I do recognise what they're saying. I think there has been a change. I think small employers are keen. They have to get ready as well, the exemption threshold for employers with under 15 workers will go. Only recently we saw the TV equivalent of this programme Working Lunch feature a small employer employing a disabled person for one day a week and that worked very well for both sides. There is still a long way to go, of course, as Barry said there is that fear of an open ended financial obligation that some employers - large and small - sometimes toy with. My organisation certainly, we'll be writing very soon to all our 185,000 members about getting ready for this. I think when the Labour government came in in '97 it did a New Deal for small employers in particular and young workers, perhaps to coincide with the DDA 2004, to coincide with the exemption threshold going perhaps we need a New Deal between employers and disabled people to see how many more we can get back into work. But that fear is still there.

WHITE
Right, you mentioned this business of an open ended financial commitment and that clearly is what's at the bottom of this - money isn't it - and some people I'm sure will ask why should this responsibility be laid at an employer's door? Surely they may say their job is to run their businesses efficiently and be as profitable as possible but what's in it for them? Well the Disability Rights Commission has always argued that there is a business case, which means it's in the company's own interests to give opportunities to disabled job applicants, in other words it's not just about philanthropy. So what exactly is this business case? Well Bert Massey is the commission's chair, Bert.

MASSEY
I think that the business case increasingly is we know that disabled people tend to stay longer and changing staff is expensive. If you get the right disabled person in the right job they'll be as productive as anybody else. If you put the wrong person in the wrong job then of course they're not going to produce, nobody is.

WHITE
But aren't people going to see these as long term investments, even if you're right in a sense it still goes against people's - or a certain kind of person's - common sense perception? And is it really likely that you're going to make small employers make long term investments? They're thinking can I survive till next year.

MASSEY
Well some of them are doing that and the way they will survive is getting extremely good people working for them and the way to find them is to look at disabled people. So there's a real plus there. But I think all employers will look at their balance sheets, are having to weigh up costs and I think that our experience is employers often grossly overestimate the cost of employing a disabled person. Some of the phrases don't help us - reasonable adjustments - what does that mean? And when you say well actually it's someone who needs to park near the door, could the managing director park one space away - stick his Jaguar somewhere else - and let someone part in that space? It's sorted, no problem. Somebody with restrictive growth, we need to make a reasonable adjustment, sure saw the legs off the desk. It isn't that difficult. What we're still facing with a lot of employers is ignorance and fear.

WHITE
Steven Alambreitas I want you to be really honest about this - do most of your members buy the business case, do they actually buy the fact that they will be better off if they employ disabled people? Honestly.

ALAMBREITAS
I think buying is too early to day but I think they're listening to that business case more and more, they want to hear - we have a free legal advice line 24 hours a day, there are a lot of calls on disability issues, we have members - employers - who are disabled themselves, who are blind, who employ people who want employment contracts in Braille so that they can deal with their disabled - their staff and other disabled staff. So the whole ball game is changing and there is a willingness to learn, to see and to be open. And Bertie's quite right - what small employers do benefit from is a stable workforce. One of the real things that hurts a small business is a huge change in staff and if they can get that loyalty and that length of service from employees then the business benefits - because the customers get loyalty as well to the business.

WHITE
Steven Duckworth do we sometimes get carried away with the rhetoric? Wouldn't we be better off actually saying to employers come on be fair and look at people fairly, rather than try and say come on employ disabled people or serve disabled people and you'll make yourself rich?

DUCKWORTH
Well my view on it is and my experience directly working with disabled people who may have been unemployed for an average of about eight or nine years is that they don't typically come from a small employer background. Small employers and small businesses - and it's unlike me to defend small businesses as I'm doing now - seem to have 12, 15 employees - one of them, two of them are key staff, if that individual develops an impairment, a progressive impairment, like, for example, multiple sclerosis, they tend to want to hang on to that person because they know how the business works, they know how the system works, they know how to manage the customers and small businesses are very good at that. They're the engine room of the economy and that's where things need to grow. What concerns me more is that large employers seem to deploy tactics to use disability as a vehicle for exiting people out of their organisations. I mean look at the civil services - the numbers of disabled people employed now by the civil service is reducing, not increasing, it's going in the wrong direction. Surely we should see leadership from the top.

WHITE
I don't think we've got anyone here to defend the civil service - or perhaps Maria Eagle might like to. If that's happening, if numbers are going.

EAGLE
It varies from department to department and I do think it's important that we don't just preach to others and that we do a good job ourselves as employers. And I mean I think certainly the Department for Work and Pensions, where this is all based, does.

WHITE
Now no one can deny that there have been a great many initiatives on employment for disabled people since 1997. We've had the gradual expansion of the DDA, we've had the original New Deal for disabled people, one of the eight, I think it was, introduced shortly after coming into power, and the introduction after last year's Green Paper, of the pilot Job Centre Plus schemes, which Maria's already mentioned. Has all this activity been along the right lines, is it doing the right kinds of things, could the government do more? Let me go to Nigel Waterson on this. I mean do you - do the Conservatives, for example, have any big plans which would set this whole thing by the ears or do you just intend to tinker?

WATERSON
No we're working on some pretty big plans but I mean one thing we've identified, for example, is this government has been spending more than ten times more on the New Deal for young people than it has been on the New Deal for disabled people, with precious little to show for it on one view. There is the problem also about continuing to do all this, a lot of this - as we discussed earlier on - benefits through the job centres and Job Centre Plus because not only is the difficulty I mentioned about access but as one disability charity said to me earlier today there's also a kind of fear factor for the people who actually have to go into the job centres because they see them as having a different role to the one that the minister's now trying to give them on top of their previous role.

WHITE
One initiative from the government which does provide direct help to disabled people in employment is Access to Work, it provides cash to help with specialised equipment, transport needs, human help to enable us to do our jobs on equal terms, but this too has got its problems. Jane Hunt is chair of the Association of Disabled Professionals and Jane you've got some thoughts on Access to Work.

HUNT
If you put equipment [indistinct word] it should really be available on day one.

WHITE
Jane Hunt thank you very much indeed. The problem of speed really and this is something that's been said for quite a long time by people who are actually very supportive and happy about the Access to Work scheme, which is that the theory's fantastic but often the equipment doesn't arrive in time, often you need the equipment to get the job but you can't get the job if you haven't got the equipment. Maria Eagle, would the government accept that Access to Work is good but could be better?

EAGLE
Oh I mean I think it is good and I know how valued it is by users and we have extended it significantly, it's helping three times as many people as it was when it came into office. Of course every individual has different needs that has to be separately assessed and so we do come across issues and problems with delays sometimes. I know that it is a valuable programme, that many people like and - because it goes to the heart of overcoming barriers.

WHITE
But the time factor is crucial isn't it - if you're waiting to get a job on the basis of I need this equipment and you don't get the equipment that's one of these missing million isn't it?

EAGLE
Yes but we have to work out what equipment you need and do the assessments as well, it's not something that's always obvious in every case and so we have to have a proper balance. We do our best - in fact I mean I think that the figures show that we've been improving in terms of timeliness in respect of Access to Work, that's certainly what the figures show. I'm not saying that there aren't delays, in some cases there are, but nonetheless overall the administration of Access to Work is improving.

WHITE
Tania.

BURCHARDT
Well I think the other main problem with Access to Work is that neither employers nor disabled potential employees necessarily know about it and the government has consistently declined to advertise or promote the scheme, despite the fact that it's one of the most positively evaluated components of the government's policy for helping disabled people into work that there is. So I think - we were talking earlier about the fears that employers have of the sort of costs that they may be taking on board when employing a disabled person and even though those fears are often hugely exaggerated it also isn't helped by the fact that employers aren't aware that there is help available from the government to assist with those kinds of costs.

WHITE
Steven Alambreitas would you agree - they don't know - and whose job is it to tell them?

ALAMBREITAS
Well small employers have a lot on their plate, they do receive a lot of information both from government and other sector organisations but we've done a joint publication with the DRC, with Bert Massey, that's gone to our members in particular and the pity of it is that we only represent 185,000 small employers, if only we represented the lot I'm sure they would all know about this by now.

WHITE
It's a recruitment drive.

ALAMBREITAS
It is a very difficult thing to get government initiatives across to small employers.

WHITE
Steven Duckworth whose job is it to tell them? You can't blame the government for that, if they sent them out lots of paperwork they'd chuck it in the bin wouldn't they?

DUCKWORTH
Well no but if you go on to the DWP - Department for Work and Pensions - website and do a search on Access to Work it comes up with nothing. So it's the best kept secret in my opinion. I mean you can't do any better than make it available through the internet.

EAGLE
Can I just say it's not a secret, the number of people receiving …

DUCKWORTH
But it's not available on your website, where is it?

EAGLE
I'll have a look at that. The number of people receiving Access to Work help has trebled since we came into office. Anybody who's getting assistance from Job Centre Plus, from the disability equality advisors are going to be advised about this. And we're not trying to hide the fact that Access to Work's there, I've already said that I think it's a valuable individually rights based scheme that I know disabled people who access to it appreciate and I know that it does a good job in keeping people in jobs and also helping people to get jobs. We're not trying to hide the fact that it's there.

WHITE
One of the most striking features about the numbers of disabled people and indeed one of the factors drawn attention to in the IPPR report are those figures for people with psychiatric problems, now covered by the DDA, rising sharply over the last 10 years. But how sensitive are the solutions for helping people with physical disabilities getting into work when it comes to helping this group of people? Peter Beresford is professor of social policy at BrunelUniversity, he's also a member of Shaping Our Lives, which is a users' group for people with psychiatric problems. Professor Beresford.

BERESFORD
And other service users too. And can I just say I spent eight years living on benefits, 12 years using psychiatric services and one psychiatrist said if I was lucky I might get a job as a clerk, so I would hope to speak from experience. There are three big issues for us I think. First we've heard about the benefits system and the welfare system more generally. When you do get a job there's an assumption you won't need support services anymore, you quite probably will but they may well be taken away. And when you take those first steps, trying to get back into the world of work, maybe getting involved a little bit in a user group, a few hours voluntary or committed work, then the benefit system is so complex and unsupportive they can make it so you wrongly risk losing your benefits. I think second the big problem that faces us are the negative political and media attitudes, which have been highlighted increasingly by the view that mental health service users are a threat to society, are dangerous and violent and it's hardly surprising in that sort of context if employers are wary of taking someone on that's used mental health services. I think fear and low expectations of us overshadow public understanding about mental health issues, government needs to take a much stronger lead here. And finally I think we've really got to look, as some people have suggested, at the nature of the employment system itself. The work/life balance is not good in the UK. People are working longer and longer hours, work's increasingly identified as a major cause of stress and breakdown. Mental health service users are known to be largely restricted to the least valued, least meaningful, lowest paid sectors of employment. Getting into a job at last can actually make things worse not better. Government must begin to see employment as a right for us as mental health service users rather than an obligation and develop an approach to employment based on enhancing our employment opportunities consistent with that rights based view.

WHITE
Are you saying in fact that if the thing that actually got you into psychiatric care in the first place was the job you were doing maybe not the most helpful thing is to get you into another one?

BERESFORD
Well I think - I personally feel that many of us really do want to be in employment but that begs the question what are we talking about when we're talking about employment? And it goes back to thinking in terms of valued employment, rather than employment which is really rather meaningless and unpleasant to be in.

WHITE
Which raises the whole question really - is work always the right or appropriate answer or at least work at any price? Simone Aspis is a disability rights activist, she's a member of the organisation People First and also has personal experience of the system. Simone.

ASPIS
I have been a parliamentary campaigns worker at People First and I've been involved in inclusive education campaign work. I help families get disabled children into mainstream schools. I believe that through the active unpaid work I've done I've contributed a great deal towards making this world a better place to live in. At the end of the day all advancement in social welfare, in social policy happens through many, many hours of unpaid work people have done. So I - and so if you ask the question would I rather be in some boring routine dull job working for £5 an hour or busy, busy doing disability rights campaign work I know what I would choose.

WHITE
Simone, thank you very much indeed. Nigel Waterson do you think politicians would understand Simone's contribution - that it isn't all about work and getting as many people into jobs as possible?

WATERSON
Well I don't think it is but I mean Peter what we're debating, throughout the whole programme, is the million plus people with disabilities who've said they'd like to get back into work. Now what sort of work it is will vary from person to person - some may not want to get into the stressful hurly burly of political lobbying and may prefer to do something a bit more sedate. Others may have the opposite view, as we've just heard. It's got to be something that fits the individual case. But as I said at the end of the day this whole discussion is prompted by the willingness and the desire of lots of people with disabilities to get back into work, to get away from benefits and the vicious circle that many of them are caught up in.

WHITE
Maria Eagle, the government started its administration obviously trying to get as many people into work as possible, those last two contributions from Professor Beresford and Simone Aspis, would they give you pause?

EAGLE
Well no, no I mean I think that this problem is so big you've only got to look at the numbers - 2.7 million people on sickness link capacity benefit - it's not easy to get a million people who say they want to work into work, it's not something that can be done with the snap of a finger. So we're devising schemes that will help those who want to work get into work. You don't have to convince me Simone about the value of volunteering and unpaid work in campaigning - I'm from the Labour Party, I mean I've spent most of my life volunteering, doing unpaid work. And I'm sure that a lot of Nigel's activists in the Conservative Party would say the same thing. So I think politicians do recognise very much the value of volunteering and of activity that's work like but that isn't paid and in a work capacity.

ASPIS
So would your schemes offer the opportunity to learn how to lobby effectively on behalf of the Disability Rights Organisation, would your scheme help budding future politicians, so for example someone like me who's active in the Green Party might like to learn more effectively how to be a perspective candidate, so would your training schemes offer those kind of skills and advocacy skills?

EAGLE
I think you're doing quite well as it is.

WHITE
Thank you very much Simone and minister.

Now we heard right at the start of this programme from Kate Stanley, author of the Missing Million report. Kate you've been listening, any final conclusions about where that million might be and how we might get more of us back to work?

STANLEY
Well I think the government's made a commitment to those people who want to work should be able to work and I think they've been very effective so far in moving many people into work - lone parents and unemployed people, young people in particular. But disabled people have been a little bit behind, to say the least, we've not really seen the kind of attention on disabled people that perhaps we ought to have done. And I think to delivering on that promise - to deliver work for those who want it - is all about making this a political priority. This means putting in the right support and services through the NHS, through Job Centre Plus but it also means ensuring that those who are not able to work have the security - again as the government has pledged to do - and that means also not being too hasty to attach further conditions to incapacity benefits, we have to be very cautious about those kind of moves. But I think that this issue will only really become a political priority when we start to appreciate how important it is to delivering on other crucial targets in terms of social justice. For example, we're only going to meet child poverty targets if we start to make sure that more disabled people who want to move into work can move into work. Similarly for pensions plans for increasing the employment levels of over 50s, it's making those connections between things that are already political priorities and moving disabled people into work that's really going to count.

WHITE
Kate Stanley, thank you. Let's have one final brief comment from our panellists. If there was one measure you could put in place to fulfil that government mantra - Jobs for those who want to work, security for those who can't - what would it be? Steven Alambreitas, perhaps first of all, from your point of view, what would be the one thing that you think would convince employers that this wasn't a very frightening world round the corner?

ALAMBREITAS
I think it would be a DRC that worked increasingly with small businesses, small employers, to push the agenda for comprehensive civil rights but marrying that with the value of dignity and well paid work and if we can marry those two things together with employers in particular then we should get there very soon.

WHITE
Tania Burchardt.

BURCHARDT
Well at the moment we've got job brokers as part of Job Centre Plus who are advising disabled people on how they can get into work. I think I'd be inclined to turn those job brokers round to facing the opposite direction and start concentrating on the employers overcoming that ignorance and fear that we've talked about, letting them know about Access to Work, advising them about their legal responsibilities and getting them on board to employ more disabled people.

WHITE
Dr Steven Duckworth.

DUCKWORTH
Well there's been ten times less investment in disabled people's New Deal programmes as there has been compared to young people's programmes and I believe it's about ten times harder to assist a disabled person to get a job. So there's been a disproportionate investment there. And I would like to see the disability employment advisors having qualifications of at least a graduate level to be able to manage the transitionary work process that disabled people have to go through, it's a very complicated maze.

WHITE
Nigel Waterson, one thing.

WATERSON
Well raising the priority for disabled people who want to get back into work and removing the artificial barriers to them doing so.

WHITE
Minister, you're the one person who can actually go back to your office and do one thing - what would it be?

EAGLE
Well we need to improve and deepen the civil rights of disabled people, we need to tackle the attitudes of everybody in society to make sure that they're properly included and we need to spread and improve the opportunities and programmes and support available for disabled people.

WHITE
And that's it for our debate, raising many, many questions. Warm thanks to our panel and our audience. And a rather sharp change of pace and subject in tomorrow's You and Yours when I'll actually be reporting from my home city of Winchester for our series on wasted spaces. People think of Winchester's leafy suburbs, rather than its abandoned land but there are sites hidden within its housing estates which communities are desperately struggling to regenerate and reuse. So join me from Winchester tomorrow at four minutes past twelve. Meanwhile don't forget we'd like very much your comments on anything you've heard in today's programme. You can call us on 0800 044 044 or e-mail our website at bbc.co.uk/radio4/youandyours. But from here, at Church House in Westminster, from everyone goodbye.




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