The failure of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to ensure that the employment services it provides to disabled people through JobcentrePlus are accessible is “simply unacceptable”, according to a cross-party committee of MPs.
In a new report on the disability employment gap, the Commons work and pensions committee also criticises the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson.
The committee’s report says: “It is particularly shocking that services provided by the Department for Work and Pensions, whose ministerial team includes the Minister for Disabled People and which is responsible for a significant proportion of the Government’s work on disability, remain inaccessible to some disabled people.”
It says that DWP should act as a “beacon of best practice” on accessibility for other government departments.
The inquiry heard instead that too many disabled people were finding it difficult to access support through JobcentrePlus, including Deaf users of British Sign Language who were not provided with an interpreter, and people with visual impairments who were not offered assistance inside jobcentres.
The committee has called on DWP to invest urgently in an expansion of its provision of alternative formats for its communication with disabled claimants, and to ensure that all JobcentrePlus staff receive impairment-specific training.
The inquiry report also says that DWP’s notorious work capability assessment (WCA) – which assesses eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – is “not fit for purpose”.
That conclusion comes after years of campaigning by disabled people and their grassroots groups, and grieving family members, who have repeatedly provided evidence that links the flawed WCA with the deaths of claimants.
The committee said: “The system of repeat assessments and the punitive nature of DWP’s sanctions and conditionality regime can trap claimants in a cycle of anxiety, pushing them further away from the labour market.”
The report also calls for a “radical overhaul” of DWP’s approach to employment support, as its Work and Health Programme is “not working for many disabled people”.
And it calls on the government to “devolve” funding to local areas, so that groups of local authorities can be responsible for commissioning and delivering employment support for disabled people in their area.
Fazilet Hadi, head of policy for Disability Rights UK, said the committee’s conclusions, including that employment support for disabled people needed to be more personalised and localised, were “much more radical actions than anything contained within the government’s disability strategy”.
She said: “We urge DWP to build these recommendations into the implementation of the disability strategy.”
The committee’s report also says that “issues of trust continue to hamper the relationship between DWP and disabled people”.
Stephen Timms, the committee’s Labour chair, said: “Too often decisions affecting disabled people are made without them being meaningfully consulted or listened to.
“During the development of the National Disability Strategy, disabled people have said that the government has failed to make its engagement accessible for them.
“Disabled people and their views must now be put at both the heart of decision making and service delivery.
“Only then can we start to break down barriers to employment and ensure everyone has equal opportunities when it comes to work.”
A DWP spokesperson said the department would respond to the committee’s report in due course.
But he added: “Through our inclusive multi-billion-pound Plan for Jobs we are helping more disabled jobseekers to find, retain and progress in fulfilling work, offering specialist programmes, paired with personal support from our work coaches and disability employment advisers.
“The latest figures show the disability employment gap has narrowed, but we remain committed to reducing it further as we work towards our goal to see one million more disabled people in work by 2027.
“Our recently published National Disability Strategy, Health and Disability Benefits green paper and response to the Health is Everyone’s Business consultation have set out further actions that will support disabled people in their everyday lives, including by boosting career prospects for those who can work.”
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