Liberal Democrat Councillor Garth Harkness, Shadow Cabinet Member for Employment and Skills, has condemned new Government proposals to support disabled jobseekers as “inadequately funded” and still based upon the use of the “discredited and reviled” Work Capability Assessment.
The Government has published a Green Paper for consultation titled ‘Improving Lives’ in which its ambition is stated to halve the disability employment gap’.
Councillor Harkness said: “This would require over 1.2 million more people with disabilities to enter work than is the case today. Now there is nothing wrong with supporting jobseekers with disabilities to find meaningful and fulfilling employment that is appropriate for them, taking account of their medical conditions, but this support must be accessed voluntarily and it should be adequately funded.”
“Under these proposals, disabled jobseekers will continue to be subjected to the discredited and reviled Work Capability Assessment and many, despite being plainly sick, will be forced to look for work for which they are incapable. The Employment Related Service Association, which represents organisations offering employment support to disabled jobseekers, has also identified that funding for support will drop to less than £130 million next year.”
The Employment Related Service Association recently published a report which identified that the Government’s new Work and Health Programme will deliver support to less disabled jobseekers – down from 300,000 between 2012 and 2015 to 160,000 from 2017 to 2020 – with less funding – down from £750 million in 2013/14 to less than £130 million next year.
Councillor Harkness believes that local authorities and local charities are better placed to deliver support services to disabled people:
“Councils and charities operate on the ground in communities where local disabled people live and local businesses operate. The Liberal Democrats believe that there should be a role for Oldham Council and our charity sector, especially with employment support and training being devolved to Greater Manchester level.”
“The new Health and Work Programme should provide a stronger role for local authorities and local charities to deliver responsive and value-for-money services to suit local needs and requirements, and to work with local businesses to provide employment on an flexible and accessible basis, and to encourage and support disabled claimants to help them secure work experience placements and employment opportunities in which they have a genuine interest and to which they are suited.”
Councillor Harkness is especially hostile to the continued use of the Work Capability Assessment. He added:
“Our view is simply that the hated Work Capability Assessment must be scrapped. It should be replaced by one that is based on realistic world-of-work tests of capability and functionality, and that takes proper account of medical conditions which fluctuate, mental illnesses, learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities and conditions on the autism spectrum.”
“Local authorities should be invited to carry out assessments or be responsible for contracting out this function to others. These assessments need to be carried out in a humane and caring manner, with those being assessed being treated with dignity and understanding.”
“It is also crazy that at present contractors who carry out assessments are not routinely required to contact doctors and other medical professionals caring for the person being assessed to collect relevant evidence. This would mean that more assessment decisions can be right first time, avoiding reconsideration and appeal costs, and more importantly significantly reducing the stress caused to claimants under the present system.”
“And finally there need to be safeguards enshrined in law so that vulnerable claimants are not sanctioned when they fail to comply with the requirements of the assessment process simply because they cannot understand or engage with them.”
The Green Paper is open to responses on the consultation until February 2017.
Councillor Harkness said: “The Oldham Council Liberal Democrat Group will soon be making a robust and comprehensive response to this consultation.”