PIP, Universal Credit and other benefits can help people who struggle with physical or mental disabilities, but the system in place is not perfect. The DWP appeared to recognise this last month as on August 11, an open call to disabled people to have their say on shaping the future of the benefits system was issued. Disabled people across the country were urged to have their say in shaping the future of the benefits system by responding to the Health and Disability Green Paper consultation.
This 12-week online survey closes next month and Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson shared a “rallying call” to the public to help inform changes that will improve people’s lives.
Mr Tomlinson said: “I am truly grateful to all those who have already had their say and urge anyone who hasn’t, please do get involved. Responses from the Green Paper consultation will help us create a fairer benefits system that better serves the needs of disabled people and those with health conditions, now and in the future.
“We have identified key areas for change and with your input, we can make these a reality that have a lasting and meaningful impact on people’s lives.”
The Green Paper includes changes which, according to the Government enable independent living and test the role of advocacy so people who need extra help to navigate the benefits system get the right level of support and information first time.
It is also said to review how assessments are carried out including exploring the potential for longer-term use of telephone and video assessments and looking at how reassessments work, including testing a new Severe Disability Group (SDG) for people with severe and life-long conditions that will not improve. This could see those who meet the criteria experiencing a more simplified application process, without the need for an assessment to receive financial support.
Furthermore, the Government said it strives to improve support for disabled people to help them start, stay and succeed in work through the Work and Health Programme, Access to Work and on personalising employment support, recognising that one size does not fit all.
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The survey will close on October 11, 2021 and it can be found at the following address: www.getinvolved.dwp.gov.uk/05-policy-group/health-and-disability-green-paper/.
Following this call Neha Thethi, the Head of Employment at Lime Solicitors, spoke with Express.co.uk on what changes need to be introduced.
He said: “People with disabilities commonly experience a range of different barriers when seeking new employment.
“Some of the most common examples include environmental and institutional barriers such as lack of awareness within the workplace; misplaced fear of insurance issues; inadequate provision of workplace adjustments and more importantly attitudinal barriers such as unconscious bias and assumptions about the costs of reasonable adjustments, stigma or the belief that disabled people are less productive, more likely to have time off sick, might be a health and safety hazard and that they won’t stay in the job for long.
“These are just a snapshot, but there are many more. Many candidates still have a lack of confidence in the recruitment process due to the fear of the process being biased or discriminatory. These issues need addressing especially if disabled candidates are ever to enjoy the same recruitment experience as non-disabled people.
“To ensure that equal access is provided, employers must ensure that they do not discriminate against disabled people at any stage of the recruitment process, starting with the job advert.
“For example, using a font that is easy and large enough to read; making sure it doesn’t exclude any section of the community; not setting a criteria which automatically exclude certain groups; providing contact details of someone in the organisation who can provide further information and discussing any reasonable adjustments that may be needed and offering alternative formats for applications.”
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Martin Usher, a Partner in Lime Solicitors’ Personal Injury Team, also focused specifically on PIP. “The benefits system generally and the assessments for Personal Independence Payments specifically are predominantly designed to assess people with physical disability,” he said.
“The questions focus almost entirely on what someone can and cannot do physically and as a consequence people with hidden disabilities such as cognitive issues arising from traumatic brain injury or psychiatric/psychological issues are regularly initially refused benefits that they should be entitled to.
“This means either that they miss out on much needed support and struggle as a consequence or they have to engage advocates to assist them with the subsequent appeals process to enable them to access the support that they require.
“The assessment system is simply not fit for purpose in terms of assessing people with hidden disability and far greater education in terms of hidden disability needs to take place both for those that are designing the assessment process and those that are then subsequently carrying out the assessments.”
The need for further support may stretch into the caring sector over the coming months, as recent research showed disabled and vulnerable adults in England are being hit by massive rises in care costs.
In late August, BBC News research showed many adults with learning disabilities are paying thousands of pounds extra a year, with six councils doubling the amount of money collected in charges.
The BBC found in half of the 83 areas that responded to the organisation’s request, bills across all users were found to have risen by at least 10 percent over two years.
Suzanne Trask, a Partner and Head of the Adult Brain Injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, commented on how damaging this could be to affected families.
“This is disappointing news, though is sadly unsurprising,” she said.
“The pain of Government cuts is being passed directly onto those who need the most help. Is there no other way?
“In my work with those who have suffered brain injuries, I see how vital professional care is. It’s a vital lifeline, allowing people to live a fuller life, and spend each day with dignity.
“With the right support, people don’t just survive – they can thrive, leading to many positive benefits for us all. Facing extra costs that restrict the possibility of a fulfilling life is really soul destroying. Are people to accept a reduced quality of life?
“Continuing to increase bills by such a degree – doubled in some cases – is simply not sustainable. How are vulnerable people to fund the extra cost?
“They are usually living on a tight budget, and unable to work. They may have family and friends who could offer help, though pushing the financial burden of care needs onto their support network can’t be the solution. Many are not so fortunate, and are isolated, without family to turn to.
“Charities such as Headway, the brain injury association see the impact, there has never been a greater demand for their services.
“Following a very difficult year with reduced funding, charities are being asked to do more for less. Is it right that those who need most help are being pushed to increasingly rely on charities for help?”
While these figures and comments are damning, it should be noted the Government has made over £2billion available in specific funding for adult social care, in addition to over £6billion that has been made available to local authorities to address pressures on their services.
On top of this, the Government announced a £7billion package for health and care services to support the next phase of the NHS response to coronavirus.
In response to the BBC report and Ms Trask’s comments, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to reforming our adult social care system and, as set out in the Queen’s Speech, we will bring forward proposals later this year.
“Our objective is to join up health and care to meet the needs of individuals by giving them personalised care that helps them to live the fullest possible lives.
“We are working closely with local and national partners to ensure our approach to reform is informed by a diverse set of perspectives, including of those with proper experience of working or living in the care sector.”
Express.co.uk contacted the DWP for comment