Welfare policy undermines disability equality

The game changers


Jane Young is a campaigner and consultant based in South West London. She is currently campaigning and co-ordinating the ‘We are Spartacus‘ grassroots movement of sick and disabled people.

In recent weeks some commentators have started to highlight the way in which, since 2010, as a direct result of the Government’s unfair and inept welfare reform programme, disability campaigning has become overly focused on the benefits system. A clear example of some of the problems this has created is the debate around Employment and Support Allowance, the Work Capability Assessment and the controversial issue of “fitness for work”.

Sick and disabled people face complex barriers to participation and employment but, in seeking to expose the lunacy of the work capability assessment, much of the media reporting has been guilty of playing right into the Government’s hands. Take headlines that read something like: “Double [lower limb] amputee told he’s fit for work” (shock, horror!). This kind of headline, whilst entirely understandable, misses the point and undermines the inclusion of disabled people. Many double amputees are able to work but simply finding such a person “fit for work” drives them further from the workplace.

A double amputee who has always worked in an occupation that necessitates, for example, the ability to walk without restriction, faces enormous barriers to employment. These barriers include those relating to their impairment – the need to adapt to the use of prostheses and/or a wheelchair, to manage phantom limb pain and stump pain – as well as non-impairment related barriers, including the need to acquire the skills needed for a sedentary job and to overcome the discrimination severely disabled people face in today’s labour market – where employers can choose, from hundreds of applications, an applicant who has no additional support needs. The Government’s Work Programme has been shown to be almost entirely incapable of providing effective support to enable disabled people to face and overcome any of these barriers, whether impairment-related or otherwise.

Most disabled people want to work, but an approach focused on compulsion and sanctions, confining the issues to the benefits system, is doomed to fail. What will enable disabled people to work, if their health allows, is effective, holistic support combined with equality laws that actually make a difference to the way employers behave. The issues go beyond the benefits system; the real question is “how does our society view sick and disabled people?”

5 thoughts on “Welfare policy undermines disability equality”

  1. The question asks “How does our society view sick and disabled people?” Well I would say in a very negative way; that is unless they are being viewed positively by those who care for them or live with them. Constant abuse of the few privileges which society affords us; for myself the biggest abuse I face is when trying to park in designated disabled persons bay. The number of people who think that disabled people don’t go out at night or they are invisible. You only have to go to a local supermarket to see the number of abled bodied, people who for convenience to themselves, park nearest the shop doors, that doesn’t exclude the stores staff too.
    As for the workplace, we get patronized and the very equipment which would make working that more accessible is often seen as unnecessary or too expensive for just one persons benefit. The Equality Bill has diluted the power of the DDA, not that it in itself had much power and was quite often overlooked by employers or service providers as being optional. What a lot of people don’t realize is, that after China and India, disabled people, as a people group, are the third largest in the world. That’s a lot of people and a lot of wasted resources and also a lot of spending power by those who are incapacitated. Service providers, more often than not, think they can treat disabled people as those who need to be pitied or treated as third class citizens. I would say to those who think along those lines, one of the most disabled people in the world and the one who does not make any claims for benefits is Professor Steven Hawkins. He has one of the greatest brains in the world. Then look at Joni Ericsson, Dame Tani Grey and other Para-Olympians, do you think they just sat back and got handed their medals and awards? NO they trained just as hard as those who didn’t have a disability. Lets start treating everyone equally and showing each other the respect and dignity we all would like to be treated with. We are not scroungers, we are people willing to work and to work hard, just give us the opportunity to do so and you might be amazed at who you can learn from those who may not have the same physical or mental capacity as you. If given workplace opportunities we would be adding to the wealth of the nation by paying taxes and contributing to society and giving something positive back,

  2. Disabled people need help & support into the workplace. By castigating then and stereotyping disability it only serves to drive them further away – help not threats. Too much ‘stick’, not enough ‘carrot’.

  3. An interesting read but I feel it misses the point. Whilst a lot of campaigning efforts at the moment are focusing on the appropriateness of the way sick disabled people interact with the state these efforts are not focused solely on what we don’t like, but are trying to identify what we, as sick and disabled people, do like.
    “What should a system that provides financial support to disabled people and provides them with suitable opportunities look like?” is a question occupying many of the user led disabled peoples organisation’s at the moment.
    Also, as Jane Young is aware, the WOWpetition (www.wowpetition.com) screams:
    “We call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform, and a New Deal for sick & disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions”
    If that doesn’t suggest to Jane that we are asking “how does our society view sick and disabled people?” then has she actually read it?

  4. In Sheffield the private company SkyLakes have been brought in to reassess DP budgets and make significat cuts

  5. Ian – I didn’t even mention the WOW petition – the wording of which I had a hand in and which I’ve signed. The point I’m making is that the media, especially, sometimes misses the point about fit for work decisions (of which I acknowledge some are incorrect because the whole WCA is flawed). The media sometimes argues that it’s obvious the disabled person is not fit for work, rather than taking the more nuanced view that many such people are fit for work but that it’s pointless telling someone they’re fit for work if there’s no support to get suitable work. In a short post I was never going to address the whole issue in the round!

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