Tag: Green paper

Philip Hammond shamefully claims UK productivity rates low because more disabled people are in work

Philip Hammond has been roundly criticised following comments he made to the Treasury Select Committee, suggesting that falling productivity rates in the UK workforce was due to more disabled people being in work.

Giving evidence to the Commons Treasury Select Committee concerning the Budget, the Chancellor said: “It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”

He added :“It may have collateral impact on measured productivity performance.”

These comments betray a political mindset that is underpinned by the idea that disabled people are somehow a ‘burden’ on the economy, either in work or out of it. Conservative ministers such as David Freud and Philip Davies among others have suggested that disabled people should work for less than the minimum wage, implying that their labour is somehow worth less than that of others.  

Labour MP John Mann, a Committee member, said the Chancellor’s comments were “appalling” and later tweeted: “Chancellor just linked low productivity growth to the labour market and specified the increased employment of disabled people.

“My experience of employing disabled people is that they are brilliant employees. The chancellor’s comments are ignorant.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabilities, said: “Shocking that Philip Hammond is trying to blame disabled people for low productivity!

“Disabled people contribute enormously and disability employment gap has barely changed since productivity started to stall. Disgusting scapegoating!”

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams MP, said Hammond’s comments were “disgraceful” and called on the Chancellor to apologise:

“It is disgraceful that Philip Hammond is scapegoating disabled people for a productivity crisis created by the Conservatives’ failed economic policies”, she said.

“This is coming from a Government that has forced disabled people to pay the price of their failed austerity agenda, including by cutting measures that help disabled people into the workforce and scrapping their own manifesto commitment on halving the disability employment gap.

“We should be increasing disabled people’s access to employment, not denigrating their contributions.

“The Chancellor should apologise immediately.”

Anna Bird, director of policy and research at disability charity Scope, said: “These comments are totally unacceptable and derogatory.

“They fundamentally undermine the Government’s policy to get more disabled people into work, and the ambition set out by the Prime Minister just a week ago.

“The Chancellor must urgently withdraw them and offer a full apology.”

In their recent response to The Future of Work, Health and Disability consultation, which ran last year, the Government say that they will increase the numbers of disabled people in employment by a million by 2027. The Conservatives claim that they want to ensure disabled people ‘fulfil their potential.’ They claim that work is a ‘health outcome’ and employment is linked with better health in order to justify the raft of policies that has left many disabled people without adequate lifeline support for the past few years.

Hammond’s comments make a mockery of the whole rationale behind the government’s approach to disabled people’s welfare and justification of the severe cuts in their lifeline support. Many disabled people have been forced by the state to work because they suddenly found themselves no longer eligible for financial support. This is because of the re-written state assessment processes, which are specifically designed to cut costs. This has caused distress and harm to many disabled and ill people, at a time when they are very vulnerable.

For example, last year I wrote a harrowing article about a man with a serious lung condition, hernia and he also developed depression and anxiety, who was passed as ‘fit for work’ by ‘independent’ and state-contracted ‘healthcare professionals’. His doctor was told by a manager at Birkenhead job centre to stop issuing ‘fit notes’ (another Orwellian language shift by the government, to describe sick notes). The letter said:

‘We have decided your patient is capable of work from and including January 10, 2016.

This means you do not have to give your patient more medical certificates for employment and support allowance purposes unless they appeal against this decision.’

The doctor obliged and the patient died. He clearly wasn’t ‘fit for work.’ 

James Harrison was very worried that his ill-health interfered with his obligation to comply with the inflexible and harsh conditions attached to his eligibility for basic welfare support and that this would lead to sanctions – the withdrawal of his lifeline support and only income, which was calculated to meet his most basic survival needs only. What an absolutely appalling situation for the state to put someone in when they are so ill.

It’s difficult to understand why a so-called civilised, developed and very wealthy nation would place some citizens’ lives at risk in this way. James isn’t an isolated case. There are many more people that have been distressed and harmed by the consequences of the Conservative’s disciplinarian approach to ‘welfare’ policies.

The Government has already faced a damning United Nations inquiry into their systematic failure to observe and uphold the basic human rights of disabled people.

The correlation claimed by the Government regarding health and work most likely arises because of a faulty inferential leap of convenience on their part. Again, this claim has been used to justify cuts to support for disabled people. The correlation arises because people aren’t in employment when they are simply too ill to work.

This said, being out of work has become very bad for people’s health, because welfare has been reduced to the point where it cannot adequately cover the costs of people’s most fundamental and basic survival needs any more. It was originally designed to cover only essentials. It stands to reason that if it has been reduced, people won’t be able to afford necessities any more. Many people in work are also facing severe difficulties in meeting their basic physical needs, because of the drop in real wages over recent years and increasing employment insecurity, coupled with rising living costs. Living standards have plummeted which will invariably impact on peoples’ health, in work or out. Work is failing to provide sufficient income, and that is getting worse. There is a well-established correlation between mental and physical wellbeing, and financial hardship.

The Conservatives also claim that people taking long term sick leave has a detrimental impact on the economy and productivity, costing UK employers and the Treasury millions. 

It seems the Government is struggling to produce a coherent and consistent rationale for their increasingly draconian policies aimed at pushing disabled people into work and more generally, in getting their ‘facts’ straight.

It’s about time conservative ministers stopped their expedient scapegoating of ill and disabled people.

 


 I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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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.


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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