The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper

By Bernadette Meaden
November 2, 2016

It’s early days, but there have already been some very good initial responses to the government’s Green Paper on Work, Health and Disability. The best I’ve seen so far comes from Neil Crowther. Neil attended the launch of the Green Paper and writes,

“When asked how the government would manage to get 1.2 million disabled people into work by 2020 when the OBR reports that the government aims to secure jobs for 900,000 more people overall, the Minister pretty much confirmed that ‘halving the Disability Employment Gap’ was little more than a distant aspiration.  It is of course a more attractive and apparently noble way to frame policy than ‘cutting benefits for disabled people’ and my sense is that it is little more than a new frame, as cutting benefits expenditure – and the costs to business and the NHS of ‘sickness’ –  appears to remain the primary driver.”

The yawning chasm between the Green Paper’s rhetoric and the reality of what government has done and is doing to disabled people is perhaps its most striking characteristic. The Emperor really does not have any clothes.

 In fact, given recent government policy towards disabled people, it seems surprising that the disability employment gap isn’t even bigger. With the abolition of the Independent Living Fund, cuts to Access to Work, and hundreds of people a week losing mobility help after a PIP assessment, it seems a distinct possibility that, far from being reduced, that gap could grow.

In today’s Guardian (2 November 2016), Frances Ryan writes that “care cuts have left one million disabled people stranded” and tells of Julie Sharp, 30. “For an insight into how all the strings of disabled people’s independence are being pulled at once, consider that as Julie sees her social care cut, she’s also been turned down for the wheelchair she needs. Instead, she’s been given a non-powered one. She hasn’t got the strength to propel it so she’s stuck, unable to move.”

The disability employment gap involves two groups, disabled people themselves, and employers. No matter how hard disabled people try, they will not get jobs if employers are not prepared to employ them, making reasonable adjustments and accepting that, for instance, they may need to take time off for hospital appointments or a flare up of their condition.

In this relationship between disabled people and employers, employers hold virtually all the cards, and have it in their power to make a huge difference to the situation. They have so far shown little inclination to do so, but are nevertheless courted and praised, through the government’s Disability Confident scheme. Meanwhile, the government piles pressure onto ill and disabled people for not striving harder to get jobs that just aren’t there. Tens of thousands of people who the DWP’s own assessors consider unfit to work have been sanctioned, and new ESA claimants placed in the Work Related Activity Group (unfit to work) are about to get a £30 per week cut, placing them on the same financial footing as a non-disabled Jobseeker.

This new Green Paper seems to have emerged from some other, better world, a world in which innovative ideas about getting disabled people into work seem feasible – whilst here in the real world the government systematically removes all the support that makes it possible for disabled people to lead a dignified life, and employers (including the DWP itself ) sack people who take too much time off sick.  

Before piling more pressure onto disabled people to get jobs, the government needs to a) ensure suitable jobs exist, and b) restore all the support it has removed that would make it possible for them to work, e.g. restore Motability cars, reverse the £4.6 billion social care cuts etc. Otherwise, to paraphrase Geoffrey Howe, it’s like a team captain sending a batsman to the crease with a broken bat, and then punishing him for not scoring any runs.

There are some interesting proposals in the Green Paper, which I hope to write about in the coming weeks, but it seemed important to first place it in the context of current reality.

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 © Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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