Welfare and Work Bill – our priorities in the closing stages

The Welfare and Work Bill that is currently going through Parliament is a big priority for Scope because it will have a major impact on the employment prospects of disabled people.

As scrutiny reaches its final stages in the House of Lords, and as set out in our last blog post on the Bill, Scope is focused on two key issues – opposing the proposed cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for some disabled people, and persuading the Government to report on progress in meeting their commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

Disability employment gap reporting

A key issue for Scope is requiring the Government to report annually on progress in meeting its manifesto commitment to halving the disability employment gap. The first clause of this Bill introduces a reporting obligation on the Government’s progress towards achieving full employment, ensuring Parliamentarians and the public are kept informed of progress towards meeting this target.

Scope believes that this should include a requirement for the Government to report annually on meeting its commitment to halve the disability employment gap, which itself set as a Manifesto commitment.

The gap between disabled people’s employment rate and the rest of the population has remained stubbornly static at around 30% for the last decade. The Government cannot hope achieve its objective of full employment unless it halves this gap. Reporting annually on progress towards doing so, will draw attention and accountability to this very welcome commitment, and will greatly help to prioritise its delivery by the Government.

This looks set to be the first issue that Peers debate then the Bill’s Report Stage starts later today.

Opposing reduction to ESA

On Wednesday, they will turn their attention to the Government’s proposed cut to Employment and Support Allowance for disabled people in the Work Related Activity Group.

In previous blog posts and Parliamentary briefings, we have set out how this proposed cut of £30 a week will adversely affect some disabled people, who have been found unfit for work by an independent assessment. The cut will disincentivise them from finding employment, and push them further from the labour market.

Two important developments have powerfully brought home this message to Parliamentarians recently. At Lords Committee Stage, Scope and our coalition partners in the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), supported Lord Low, and Baronesses Meacher and Grey Thompson, to review the impact of the ESA WRAG cut.

From evidence received from disabled people, as well as organisations representing them, the review found the proposed cut to ESA WRAG would make it much harder for people in this group to find work. This is because it would more difficult to be able to afford training, work experience and volunteering. Cutting benefits would also lead to stress and anxiety as people struggled to pay the bills, affecting their physical and mental health, according to the review’s findings.

It recommends that Government should not push ahead with the cut. Instead, they should put in place better support for disabled people to help them build up their skills and support to look for, and stay in, work.

Disabled people had the opportunity to communicate these messages face to face with MPs  in a lobby of Parliament a couple of weeks ago, which was attended by nearly a hundred members of Parliament.

The review and lobby of Parliament have generated considerable momentum behind the campaign to reverse the ESA WRAG reduction. Both independent and leading opposition Peers have signed up to amendments to scrap the ESA WRAG cut, and its equivalent in the Universal Credit system. Scope and our DBC partners are very hopeful that this will herald a vote against a reduction in ESA on Wednesday night in the House of Lords.

We will be live tweeting the debates on Monday 25 January and Wednesday 27 January, and you can follow proceedings live online on Parliament TV. Watch out for more blog updates on the bill as it leaves the Lords, and MPs consider any changes they have made.  

I published a book so others can walk this road with me

Rachel is mum to Sam, who has severe cerebral palsy. She writes a blog, and she’s just published a book called The Skies I’m Under.

She’s doing a Q&A on our community this week – feel free to come and say hello! Here Rachel talks about her experience at the time of diagnosis. 

Memory is a funny thing. I can tell you the name of the boy I fancied aged nine (Andrew Jafferies) and sing you the ‘Milkyway’ advert from start to finish, but I can’t tell you why I just walked into the living room. It seems my brain is very good at identifying important information and promptly forgetting it.

A day I’ll never forget

There are some things though I will never forget. Like the day I was told my son, Sam, had been born with severe brain damage. Three years ago, I set off on a journey of remembering. I sat in the summerhouse in my garden and started writing about my early days of motherhood. I wasn’t just sketching out what had happened but I settled there, and filled in the hues and shades of a time when my life was turned upside down.

Last month, I published my memoir about becoming the mum of a severely disabled son, so now others can walk this road with me. Here’s an extract from The Skies I’m Under. It tells of how my husband, Tim, and I were told the results of an MRI scan that confirmed Sam’s brain damage.

“I’m afraid it isn’t good news.”

‘The doctor in front of us finally stopped, swung open a door, and showed us into a small office. We entered clinging onto our hopes of a miracle, with our dreams intact. The room resembled a large cupboard, absent of a two-seater sofa or box of tissues. With the small room void of natural light, limited space and haphazard layout, the doctor was required to perch on the edge of a desk as she began to talk.

“I’m Doctor Rutherford,” the slight woman explained. She introduced her colleague, whom we had seen earlier that day.

“I’m afraid it isn’t good news. The scan shows severe brain damage.” Her words were spoken lightly, yet the room began to close in. She gently and calmly explained in detail how the scan showed Sam had been very unlucky.

I sat rigidly and gazed across at the scan. I began to see a withered, shrunken brain, with deep darkened rims of space where healthy tissue should have been. She explained Sam’s brain damage was both unusual and extensive. Not only had he suffered damage to the white matter but also the grey matter.

“From the scan we can only assume that numerous insults occurred in the time leading up to Sam’s birth and then again at delivery,” she informed us. Her words became a blur of white noise as my mind drowned out the truth; replaying all the times I may have allowed this catastrophic event to occur.

How had I missed my baby struggling inside me?

How had I carried on singing, stripping wallpaper and going about my daily life, when the fragile being inside me was suffering repeated insults?

What kind of mother was I?

Refocusing on the words being thrown around the room, I brought my mind back to the small office and information I wanted to ignore.

“All parts of his brain are affected. He will live with cerebral palsy… resulting in learning difficulties… as well as physical limitations.” There was nothing to say, so we simply nodded, indicating our readiness to hear more.

“He will have complex needs and it seems the areas affecting temperature regulation and vision are particularly damaged.”

Tim bravely asked questions and I was surprised at his ability to talk with a steady voice. The doctor remained vague. We weren’t told he would never walk, talk or eat, but it was indicated that each of these things was in jeopardy.

Our future plans were erased

It was as though the doctor conjured up a paintbrush dripping with brilliant white emulsion and began covering the wall of our future. What had once displayed vivid colourful strokes of our hopes, dreams and future plans, was being abruptly erased. The blank canvas that remained felt daunting rather than full of potential. Nothing could be assumed, and nothing could be expected.

A bomb had exploded in the middle of our lives splintering our world into thousands of tiny pieces. Like walking wounded, we staggered out of the hospital holding onto each other, dazed and bewildered. The words spoken over us rang in our ears. As reality began to sink in, I was surprised at the magnitude of my shock. I simply hadn’t prepared myself for hearing my little boy had profound brain damage.’

A different outlook

I couldn’t imagine what my life would become and how hard it would be. I struggled picturing a world where my son was disabled and my home full of disability equipment. Today, I appreciate that the most picturesque views are often found down a bumpy road. I couldn’t foresee neither the heartache, the love, nor the smiles.

Win a signed copy! Ts&Cs

Want to win a signed copy of Rachel’s book? To enter, sign up to the community and comment on Rachel’s discussion. Only one entry per person. The prize draw closes on 1 February at 10am. The winner will be chosen at random after this date and notified via email. The book can only be posted to addresses in the UK and no cash equivalent or alternative prize will be offered.

Rachel is doing a Q&A on our online community from 25 to 31 January. You can ask her about her experiences and find out more about her book.