Campaigners have told delegates to the Conservative party conference why intensive support is vital in helping disabled job-seekers to find work.
They were speaking at a fringe event organised by the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) and the Disability Benefits Consortium.
Stef Benstead, a researcher with the We Are Spartacus online campaigning network, said disabled people put through the government’s employment and support allowance (ESA) system were not receiving the support they needed.
She said that many people in the ESA work-related activity group – those supposed to be moving towards work – were just “parked” on the Work Programme and given no support at all.
She said research showed that the ESA system was “too harsh”, and added: “There are people with significant barriers to work who need support but aren’t getting it.”
Benstead said that the consequences were that “we have disabled people and sick people scared of a system that is both harsh and inaccurate”, with many people “talking about suicide as the only option”.
The disabled blogger and campaigner Kaliya Franklin said that having her social care package reinstated a couple of months ago, six years after it had been taken away, and being placed in the ESA support group, had “given me a bit more confidence to think maybe I can find my way through for part-time work”.
She said politicians were focusing on helping those with the highest needs. But she warned that ignoring those with lower support needs would only increase support costs in the long term.
Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s former chief executive, said that the continuing closure of many disabled people’s organisations was leading to hundreds of disabled people losing their jobs.
And he pointed to the reluctance of many mainstream organisations to employ disabled people.
Dhani said that disabled people were regarded as “costly or a drain by too many organisations, particularly during the current economic crisis”, while proposed cuts to spending on disability living allowance made it even more likely that disabled people would remain out of work.
He added: “Disabled people with high support needs or access needs are less likely to be employed and more likely to lose their jobs.”
And he warned that paid work “must not be the only measure of people’s worth and value”, with volunteering just as important as paid work “for a great number of disabled people”.
Ralph Hemus, who has secured a full-time apprenticeship with Bath and North East Somerset Council after taking part in the government’s supported internship programme Project Search, said: “Before Project Search I had a lot of anxieties and I thought that I couldn’t work but, with the skills I had and with a little bit of support, I am in full-time work.
“I know with the support I have I know I can have a job, and get across that people with autism can work.”
Esther McVey, the minister for disabled people, said the reality was that there would always have to be a measure to assess who are “the most disabled people”, although it was important not to have “a crude switch that flips from one to the other”.
She added later: “The thing we have got to look at is are we helping the people who need it most. It is about utilising the resources we have got.”
2 October 2013