Tag: Disability Confident campaign

‘Disability confident’ DWP acted ‘perversely’ in sacking of disabled woman, court says

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The government’s meaningless Disability Confident campaign.

The Guardian reports that a disabled woman was discriminated against when she was unfairly sacked by the Department for Work and Pensions, which behaved in a “perverse” and “blinkered” manner, a judge has found. 

Isabella Valentine was employed by the DWP on a programme designed to get vulnerable, long-term unemployed people back into work by nurturing and training apprentices over a 12-month period, bringing them to a point where they could apply for jobs in the usual way. Instead, “inexplicable and strange” disciplinary measures were taken by the DWP after just four days’ sickness that led to Valentine’s dismissal. 

“I suffer regular migraines that are so severe and unpredictable that I am officially classed as disabled. Because of that and a lack of qualifications, I haven’t been able to find decent employment,” said Valentine.

“When I was handpicked for this programme, I was so happy. I hoped that I had finally found employers who would let me do a good job while being understanding of the time off I sometimes have to take because of my migraines. 

“Instead, I was made to feel small and so stressed that my migraines got even worse. Not only were no reasonable adjustments made for my disability as legally required but I was subject to the same strict and unbending rules that permanent employees had to work by.” 

She added: “My manager started harassing me on the first day I took off sick because of a migraine. By the fourth day, the department had started disciplinary proceedings and decided to dismiss me. Which it then did.” 

In his judgment, the employment judge, Robin Postle, said: “[Valentine’s treatment] does beg the question, why, given the nature of why the claimant was put on the course, to try and get her back into the workplace, the [DWP] did not make reasonable adjustments [under the Equality Act 2010], in disregarding migraine absences, or indeed, simply taking no further action. The claimant has suffered unfavourable treatment and she had a disability.” 

The DWP has been taken to the employment tribunal by staff almost 60 times over claims of disability discrimination in a 20-month period. The DWP, which has about 75,000 staff, has the worst record on disability discrimination of any large government department with 57 cases, compared with 20 cases against the Home Office (which has about 30,000 staff), 32 against the Ministry of Justice (about 70,000 staff) and 29 against HM Revenue and Customs (about 60,000 staff). 

The number of allegations made by disabled staff is surprising because the DWP is responsible for the much-criticised Disability Confident scheme, which aims to help employers recruit and retain disabled employees. DWP claims to be a Disability Confident leader”, the highest of the scheme’s three levels. 

Valentine’s manager was told she would require extra support and leeway to enable her to complete the course. The Suffolk Law Centre solicitor Carol Ward fought the case as part of the National Lottery Reaching Communities-funded project Tackling Discrimination in the East, said: “The behaviour of the DWP was particularly inexplicable and strange because the whole point of the course was to help the apprentices who struggled to cope in the workplace. 

“The claimant had been personally chosen by a DWP work coach. The scheme specifically said apprentices would need nurturing and support, and that they weren’t expected to contribute to the business in the same way as those recruited in the usual way. But as soon as she hit the four-day absence trigger, disciplinary procedures were started.” 

The behaviour of Valentine’s managers was, the judge found, “frankly perverse”. Meetings with Valentine were frequently misrepresented in “clearly incorrect” letters sent by her direct manager. 

Instead of exercising the discretion available to her, the same manager “slavishly followed the policy in a blinkered manner”, while a second manager “had a closed mind”. A third manager who conducted Valentine’s appeal failed to do basic checks on the considerable leeway that had been granted to many other apprentices on the same course.

The consequence was a “predetermined decision” to dismiss Valentine before she had even returned from her second period of sick leave. 

“This was particularly surprising given the fact that [one of the managers said] it became clear very quickly that this was a group of people who needed a lot of support as they were not used to the working environment and needed support to help them cope,” said the judge. 

The DWP said: “We accept this decision. Our general approach is a supportive one – we provide employees with free access to counselling, health advice, physiotherapy and workplace adjustments to manage absences, and we do not dismiss staff without proper consideration and taking professional advice.”

The evidence strongly suggests otherwise. 

 


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Dangerous new changes planned to force sick people into work – or into poverty – Debbie Abrahams

With many thanks to Open Democracy.

The government promised to help disabled people back into work. They’re failing – and now it looks like they’re targeting those who need higher levels of support.


The punitive changes to social security for sick and disabled people were recently highlighted in the film I, Daniel Blake

The Government published its long-awaited ‘Improving Lives: Work, Health and Disability’ Green Paper at the end of October 2016 after originally promising a White Paper in 2015. The White Paper was supposed to define how disabled people would be supported into work and meet the Government’s manifesto pledge of halving the disability employment gap of 34% by 2020 (currently it stands at 32%).

The employment gap was used to justify further draconian cuts in social security support for disabled people in the Welfare Reform and Work (WRW) Bill published last summer. In particular, the Bill announced cuts of approximately £1,500 a year in Employment and Support Allowance to half a million people in the Work-Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG) – those people who had been found not fit for work, but who may be in the future – to be introduced in April 2017.

The 2016 Welfare Reform and Work Act followed the 2012 Welfare Reform Act which Scope estimated by 2018 will have cut nearly £28bn of social security support to 3.7m disabled people. Of course this doesn’t include £4.6bn cuts in social services support since 2010 or the NHS crisis, both of which affect disabled people.

The Green Paper, the consultation for which closed on 17th February just 6 weeks before the ESA WRAG cuts come into place, makes the bold claim that ‘…employment can… promote recovery.’

The issue I have with this statement, and the tone of the Green Paper as a whole, is that this implies that disabled people and people with chronic conditions would recover if only they tried a bit harder, or their doctors weren’t such soft touches. It doesn’t mention ‘shirkers’ directly but comments on how some people with the same condition languish in the ESA Support Group whilst others “flourish at work”, making it clear that’s what they’re thinking, ignoring their own rhetoric about “not treating everyone in a one-size-fits-all way”.

As a former Public Health consultant who researched into the health effects of work and worklessness, I agree that some work is good for health, but I don’t agree with the Government’s flawed thinking underpinning this: that it’s OK for people to return to work when they are still not fit, because it may help. This is not just unsound, it’s dangerous.

The scapegoating of disabled people, which includes people with physical or mental impairments and long-term health conditions as defined under the 2010 Equality Act, has been a hallmark of this Government and the previous Coalition. But even the conclusion of the United Nations inquiry that the UK Government has been responsible for ‘grave…systematic violations’ of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since 2010, has been met with Government stonewalling.

It is already well established that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people as a result of the extra costs associated with their disability. Currently 4.2 million disabled people live in poverty and I have been informed from unpublished analysis by an Economic and Social Research Council research project that this is getting worse.

The Government has refused to stop the cuts to ESA WRAG and Universal Credit’s Limited Capacity to Work which come in this April, which will undoubtedly increase the numbers of disabled people living in poverty, threatening their health and well-being. Various discretionary funds may be available, for example the Flexible Support Fund, but there is no guarantee of support and they are quite specific in what they can be used for.

The timing of these cuts when there has been a negligible reduction in the disability employment gap is quite shocking. The Green Paper rings alarm bells that people in the ESA Support Group are the next to be targeted. Linked to this, the new Work Capability Assessment criteria which the Government announced last September (after I committed to scrap the Work Capability Assessment) will be published later this year. These will give a clear indication what the Government’s real agenda is.

The Green Paper also talks about employers and the need for them to invest more in workplace health and occupational health support. This is, of course, very important; 90% of disability and long-term health conditions are acquired, so it is absolutely right to examine what can be done to reduce the risk of employees falling ill and how employers can make reasoned adjustments to support an employee to stay in work if they become disabled. But Access to Work helped only 36,000 disabled people stay in or access work in 2015 out of the 1.4m disabled people who are fit and able to work.

To date, the Disability Confident Campaign launched in 2015 has been a dismal failure making a negligible impact on the disability employment gap. Changes in employer attitudes and behaviour needs practical support, including Access to Work. But what is the Government doing to support employers, especially small businesses given that nearly half the workforce is employed by them? How can a small business access affordable, timely occupational health support? With the NHS in crisis and waiting times for non-urgent treatments escalating, how will timely interventions to help people back to work be delivered?

As always with this Government and the previous Coalition, they are happy to point fingers at everyone else without taking any responsibility themselves. They talk about the impact of work on health and the need for ‘culture change’ and to ‘reinforce health as a work outcome’ but what about the impacts of the social security system on the health of claimants? Their policies have a direct impact on people’s health in the punitive, humiliating way they are too often implemented, but also through the real, enduring poverty and hardship people are forced to live under.

Labour will hold this Conservative Government to account on all these areas, developing meaningful, alternative, approaches with disabled people, employees, and employers as part of our Disability Equality Roadshow. If this Government is committed to a fairer society, they should stop trying to rebuild the economy off the backs of poor, sick and disabled people.

Labour believe, like the NHS, our social security system should be there for all of us in our time of need, based on principles of inclusion, support and security for all, assuring us of our dignity.   

Related

Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow is a nationwide public consultation about policy with disabled people  Make sure you go and have your say – Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow comes to Newcastle

The next Disability Equality Roadshow event will be held in London on 27th Feb. Sign up here, to see when the consultation will be held in your area: Eventbrite -Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow-Brixton. Attending the consultations is free.


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Disabled people’s human rights in further jeopardy because of Brexit

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The UK government has tended to regard human rights as optional; as being rather more like ‘guidelines’ than laws, and often, as a mere inconvenience and barrier to the fulfillment of their ideological commitments.

Opportunities for disabled people in the workplace are likely to come under further threat unless government prioritises the recreation of EU safeguards into British statute. That is according to diversity consultancy, The Clear Company, which contributes to the government’s Disability Confident Campaign.

Former Paralympian Baroness Grey-Thompson has also warned that leaving the European Union would prevent British people with disabilities benefiting from plans to boost accessibility.

She added that Brexit would also risk a recession that would leave less money to be spent on support services. She said:

“Our membership of the European Union has had real, positive benefits for the millions of UK residents with limiting long-term illnesses, impairments or disabilities.

“It has helped to counter workplace discrimination, obliged transport providers to make their services more accessible and secured access to some UK disability benefits for Britons living in other EU countries.

“Not only would leaving Europe jeopardise these, it would close us off from enjoying the rewards of upcoming legislation that will further increase accessibility and risk a recession that would leave less money to be spent on much-needed support services.”

Fiona McGhie, Public Law expert at Irwin Mitchell, said:

“What Brexit would affect is the ability to potentially rely on the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) which in particular includes many wider social and economic rights, such as the rights to fair and just working conditions, to healthcare and to have personal data protected. If disabled people wished to try and strike down UK legislation as incompatible with rights under CFR under EU law – that avenue may not be available after the vote to leave.”

In the wake of the referendum, the following is an official press release from ResponseSource, which is a journalist enquiry service that provides a press release wire:

The EU promotes the active inclusion and full participation of disabled people in society, in line with the EU human rights approach to disability issues, through priorities including accessibility, participation, social protection and external action. It works around a firm ethos that disability is a rights issue rather than a matter for discretion.

From an employment perspective, the objective of the European Commission’s European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 is to significantly raise the number of people with disabilities working in the open labour market. They represent one-sixth of the EU’s overall working-age population, but their employment rate is comparatively low at around 50%.

The EU promotes the active inclusion and full participation of disabled people in society, in line with the EU human rights approach to disability issues, through priorities including accessibility, participation, social protection and external action. It works around a firm ethos that disability is a rights issue rather than a matter for discretion.

Commenting on this morning’s revelation, Kate Headley, Development Director at The Clear Company, said:

“As long as the UK was part of the EU, disabled people had the benefit of EU frameworks and directives to act as a safety-net against British government and any power it may exert. Now, the future of policy which most affects disabled people is in the hands of Whitehall alone.

“There is no doubt that EU-derived laws, and EU-led initiatives, have had a largely positive impact on the disabled community. This may explain why Miro Griffiths, a former government adviser and project officer for the European Network on Independent Living, recently went on record to say he believed that Britain’s exit from the EU “would have dire consequences for disabled people”. Our priority now is to help ensure that the rights disabled people currently hold are protected post-Brexit.

“Aside from the issues of how the UK’s decision to exit will impact the NHS and wider care services, the European Health Insurance Card, and EU Air Passengers Regulation – all of which disproportionately affect those with disabilities – we must also look at the effect on disabled people in the workplace.”

“The EU’s record on assisting disabled workers is strong. Its Employment Equality Directive 2000, for example, led to the removal of the original exemption in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) for employers with fewer than 20 staff in the UK, so that in 2004 it became unlawful for any UK employer to discriminate against disabled people. The employment directive also led to the DDA being changed to make direct discrimination by employers against disabled people unlawful.”

“The TUC has identified employment rights that could well be under threat from a government no longer required to comply with EU legislation. Many of these promote health and well-being at work and home, such as the Working Time Directive, which protects from stress and ill-health that arise from working excessive hours including health service workers.”

“I would urge the government, post Article 50, to recreate the safeguards that disabled people have benefited from under EU membership into British statute. We will gladly continue to support the government in the development of strategy and stand by our commitment to support employers and employees alike. Amid the avalanche of new legislation which will almost certainly flood Whitehall in the coming months, laws that safeguard and support disabled workers must be prioritised as EU law recedes.”

Related

Unfortunately, the UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people. It’s highly unlikely, given the current context, that the Conservatives will recreate the EU safeguards and incorporate them in protective legislation.

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Prime minister dismisses UN inquiry into government’s discriminatory treatment of disabled people

The biggest barrier that disabled people face is a prejudiced government

The Government’s brutal cuts to disability support isn’t ‘increasing spending’, Chancellor, but handing out tax cuts to the rich is

If even the DWP isn’t Disability Confident, how will a million disabled people get jobs? – Bernadette Meaden

Call for submissions – inquiry launched into employment support for disabled people

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Disability Employment Gap 2015. Source: UK Parliament.

Inquiry background

The Work and Pensions Committee has launched an inquiry into the Government’s commitment to halve the “disability employment gap.” According to the most recent data, 46.7% of disabled people were in work at the end of 2015 compared to 80.3% of non-disabled people. In order to close this gap, the Committee says an extra 1.2 million disabled people would need to be supported into work.

The Committee’s welfare to work report, published in October 2015, raised concerns about the lack of success of existing employment programmes in supporting disabled people into sustained employment.

The Government has since announced:

  • A new Work and Health Programme to replace the current generalist Work Programme and specialist disability Work Choice programmes
  • A real terms increase in spending on the Access to Work Programme, which provides practical support for disabled people, beyond the “reasonable adjustments” required to be made by employers
  • A White Paper to be published this year which will “set out reforms to improve support for people with health conditions and disabilities, including exploring the roles of employers, to further reduce the disability employment gap and promote integration across health and employment.”

Concerns raised over Disability Confident campaign

In addition, the DWP’s Disability Confident campaign, launched in 2013, aims to promote the benefits of employing disabled people to employers.

However, concerns have been raised about the abolition of the Work Related Activity component of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) worth £29.05 per week – and its equivalent in Universal Credit – for new claimants from April 2017, and the potential effects of this measure on disabled people’s ability to overcome their barriers to working.

Call for written submissions

The Committee invites written submissions addressing the following points:

Steps required to halve the disability employment gap:

  • To what extent are the current range of proposed measures likely to achieve the Government’s ambition of closing the disability employment gap?
  • Should the Government set interim targets along the way to meet the commitment to halve the disability employment gap? What should they be?

Support for employers:

  • How effective is the Disability Confident campaign in reducing barriers to employment and educating employers?
  • What more could be done to support employers?

Effective employment support for disabled people:

  • What should support for people with health conditions and disabilities in the proposed Work and Health programme look like?
  • How should providers be incentivised to succeed?

Likely effects of proposed ESA reform:

  • What are the likely impacts on disability employment of the abolition of the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity component?
  • What evidence is there that it will promote ‘positive behavioural change’? What evidence is there that it will have unintended consequences, and how could these be mitigated?

Aim of the inquiry

The Committee intends to consider possible improvements in:

  • the DWP’s employment support programmes for disabled people
  • Support for employers to take on disabled people
  • Disabled people’s access to the labour market more broadly

The Committee will also examine possible adverse consequences of the Government’s current approach, particularly around proposed changes to ESA, and how these might be addressed.

Chair’s comment

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee said:

“The Government has made a welcome commitment to help more people with disabilities into a position where they can find and then keep a job. If it can successfully be seen through, this commitment could signal a major stride towards achieving full employment in our country.

The really important part now is to back-up this commitment with a series of reforms that are tailored to each person’s own skills and ambitions, as well as those conditions that currently limit their ability to work, so that each person can follow a feasible journey into work. We hope the evidence we receive will enable us to help the Government in its search for such a reform package.”

Send a written submission through the disability employment gap inquiry page.

Further information

The deadline for written submissions is Monday 9 May 2016.

 

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Related

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The biggest barrier that disabled people face is a prejudiced government

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G4S are employing Cognitive Behavioural Therapists to deliver “get to work therapy”