Government's disabled worker targets: Experts respond

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Amber Rudd's plans to change the benefits system and get more disabled people into work have received a mixed response

The work and pensions secretary Rudd said that she plans to increase the government’s target of getting one million more disabled people into work by 2027, as she announced reforms to the benefits system on Tuesday.

Speaking at an event with Scope, Rudd said: “This government... intends to change the landscape for disabled people in Britain: to level the terrain and smooth their path.”

Rudd added that she acknowledged that people with disabilities sometimes felt “put on trial for seeking support", and that the government intends to move towards a more forgiving system.

However, details on these wider reforms remain unclear. Rudd did announce that 270,000 pensioners will no longer face repeat assessments to continue to receive disability benefits. From this Spring they will no longer need to have their personal independence payments (PIPs) reviewed to receive the benefit.

PIPs are designed to help disabled people with the extra costs associated with their health condition, and recipients can receive up to £145.35 per week. The use of PIPs has been widely criticised by disability campaigners who claim that they leave many older people worried that their payments will be taken away.

Last month the government announced it would increase the cap on the Access to Work grant this Spring, so that workers with disabilities will be able to claim up to £60,000 per year (up from the current £57,200 maximum) to help pay for workplace adjustments.

Business Disability Forum CEO Diane Lightfoot told HR magazine that while she welcomed the intention to get more disabled individuals into work, more support must be offered by government. “While we welcome any commitment by the government to increase the number of disabled people in employment, such a target will not be achieved without the government introducing measures to make it easier for employers to recruit and retain disabled staff,” she said.

“We know from research on Access to Work conducted by Business Disability Forum last year that people are missing out on job opportunities because the support they need to do a full-time job simply isn’t available to them.

“Plans to increase the cap on Access to Work, announced last month, do not go far enough. The cap must be removed, otherwise the government risks discriminating against people whose conditions require them to have more costly support in place. This includes people who may need the services of a BSL [British sign language] interpreter, as well as people with learning disabilities, who may need the support of a job coach.”

Lightfoot added that lack of accessible public transport was another urgent issue, and urged workplace culture change on disability: “For employers there needs to be an increased openness and visibility around disability, which needs to be driven from the top. Senior leaders need to instigate culture change by talking about their own experiences of disability and encouraging others to follow suit."

HR professionals must consider their recruitment processes and ensure that language in adverts is inclusive to disabled people, she said. They must also ensure reasonable adjustments are available to everyone, she added: "With many sectors facing skills shortages and the impact of Brexit still unknown, employers need to be able to draw on the talent of disabled workers. But the government needs to facilitate this."

However, CEO of Genius Within and psychology consultant on the BBC’s documentary Employable Me Nancy Doyle, told HR magazine that the move would have a positive effect: “The changes to the benefits system will have an impact on the number of people with disabilities entering employment. We can't underestimate the significance of the benefits system; if you put yourself in the position of having to choose between losing your benefits and getting a job, it’s a huge risk. It could mean that you’re unable to put food on the table if you get it wrong, so these proposals can only be welcomed.”

Doyle added that HR must be prepared for an increase in applications from people with disabilities: “Employers must get on board with Access to Work, and with reasonable adjustments. Making changes to your hiring processes through asking if there is an area that employees might struggle with and offering a tick-box list of adjustments you have made that could be helpful, are just some of the small, easy ways of helping someone who might find it difficult to be open about a disability.

"Start the process right away rather than waiting until someone starts experiencing problems and doesn't feel they can speak up.”

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