An unforgiving environment for thousands of disabled people across the UK

By staff writers
April 9, 2014

This new report Beyond the Barriers: Employment Support Allowance, the Work Programme and recommendations for a new system of support, released by the Spartacus Network and co-published by Ekklesia and the Centre for Welfare Reform today, demonstrates that the policy status quo presents an unforgiving environment for thousands of disabled people across the UK, says its stinging conclusion.

It continues: "Backlogs are increasing, assessment staff are demoralised, jobcentres are stretched to breaking point and work providers are pulling out of the Work Programme. Yet, for all this, the effect of reform on overall ESA numbers has been negligible. This must change.

"Few of the changes recommended in this report could happen overnight and all will take real political will to achieve.

"But however perfect any system we design could be, if attitudes don’t change radically, then reform of any kind will fail.

"We currently have a system which denies, restricts, judges and harms. No new descriptors or alternative schemes can address that. If we create a system designed only to catch cheats, we ignore the remaining 99.7 per cent of sick and disabled people who urgently need access to the best possible solutions. Indeed, the current reforms have not only failed, but have often made the situation worse. Fewer sick and disabled people currently find work than under the previous system.

"ESA and WCAs have become politically toxic. There is no question of continuing down this path if we truly intend to do the best we possibly can for those who can work whilst causing as little stress and suffering to those who cannot.

"Instead we must be radical and ambitious. We must build a system hand in hand with the very people who will use it, while turning preconceived ideas of reform upside down.

"Our intent must always be to inspire and facilitate, not to demean or restrict. We must move from sanction to incentive, from judgement to trust, from fear to aspiration. We must treat people as individuals, not numbers on a balance sheet. We must realise that sick and disabled people are the victims of social security fraud, not the perpetrators. And we must accept that people overwhelmingly tend to do their best, try as hard as they are able, and continually strive to achieve their full potential. This is currently very far from the case.

"In business, a good manager is often able to inspire their workforce, to get the very best from them they can. In contrast, a bad manager is one who institutes a climate of fear and resentment. As managers of an advanced, compassionate democracy, it is time we embraced a new understanding of the link between sickness, disability and work. The international evidence is clear: where systems are based on encouragement, respect and individual support, outcomes are better. Job starts are more sustained. Fraud remains low.

"A system that works for sick and disabled people, while also creating value for taxpayers, need not be a contradiction in terms. But to achieve it, we must first be prepared to listen."

* Read the full report here:

* All the latest on 'Beyond the Barriers':

* Press release: Disabled researchers propose alternatives to failed job tests:

* Ekklesia comment: Major turnaround needed on ESA, WCA, the Work Programme and welfare:

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.