Keith Bates, Head of Employment at the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities:
"I read with interest that the Welfare Reform Bill has reached its report stage in the House of Lords. As ever it feels like these changes are proposed with some justification. On then face of it a simpler system makes sense doesn’t it? Personalised and targeted approaches reflect changes elsewhere and the Work Programme, well that’s the ‘largest welfare to work programme since the 30’s’. That has to be good right?
The trouble is, I’m not so sure. As we end a year that has seen such massive changes, cuts, strikes and debates, we have to reflect on how this has impacted on the people we support and how will it do so next year. I’m not aware that the Work Programme is really helping people with a learning disability yet but I really hope that I may be proved wrong and it will start to help soon. With the other changes however, I do know that within the detail there are often nasty surprises.
If the assessment process central to the migration from Incapacity Benefit to ESA is anything to go by, moving from DLA to Personal Independence Payments will be painful especially if there is a 20% saving to be made. Simplified or cheaper?
I think this stuff is important, the changes proposed will change people’s lives and not always for the better. But does our central issue not remain that that so few people with a learning disability work at all and that regardless of which regime is in power, there are underlying questions about aspirations, assumptions and expectations. Most people that we work with will not be within the work related group for ESA.
Decent progress has been made under Valuing Employment Now but this issue cannot be mended in a year or two. We need to talk to disabled children with the same approaches afforded to their non-disabled peers. We need to build on this and continue towards an assumption of employability which puts work at the top of the list for people as they leave school and college despite rising unemployment rates. We need to make sure that the right support is available for people to navigate their way towards the world of work and we need to help colleagues in the DWP understand that we are still a long way away."
20 December 2011