Welfare System

During the pandemic, there has been a problem of digital exclusion for disabled people, and specifically those with a learning disability. There are two obstacles; first having access to the equipment and the internet, but also having the skills and ability to utilise this technology. As a result of COVID, the benefits process has gone digital and disabled people lack the support they need to go through these processes.

There needs to be a reasonable, accessible alternative to the online system, including properly trained staff for those who can’t access online. Currently, doing this over the phone has left people waiting for hours to speak to someone for assistance.

Wales is already experimenting around implementing a universal basic income. We had a Commission on social securities that looked at draft proposals for a scheme that worked well for disabled people. There were concerns around similar schemes in Finland and Italy, that didn’t seem to be working for disabled people, so the Commission has been looking at those and adjusting them to be better suited.

People with learning disabilities are having to fight even harder to access benefits because they don’t fit the common criteria for PIP and ESA, as well as physical disabilities do.

Problems have been caused for young people when being moved from DLA to PIP. They are being thrown off one system and having to navigate the new system with no support at all, not helping by the DWP or the lack of legal aid.

In Greater Manchester, we carried out a survey on the cost-of-living crisis and whether their benefit rates are meeting their need amidst rising prices plus additional costs. We know what the answer is but we are looking for more supporting evidence. This will only become worse with fuel poverty and the rising cost-of-living crisis.

The current DWP assessments are a huge challenge for people with learning disabilities. There is a lack of understanding about the impact of a learning disability on a person’s life because it manifests differently. For example, everyday things such as telling the time in order to make a meeting are harder for some people with learning difficulties, affecting their everyday life and therefore capacity to get into employment.

The DWP must allow for the difference in devolved legislation surrounding benefits and welfare. For example, for access to work payments, in England a statement is required for additional learning needs, however this was scrapped in Wales. The DWP however hasn’t really allowed for that and really, they need to ensure that they are up to date on the devolved legislation.

[For Wales], it would be good to see contracts going to more local or regional companies rather than ones based in England who don’t have the knowledge about key legislative differences in Wales compared to England. You also need local knowledge of employers and employment assistance or schemes available.

It is not just about access to benefits surrounding employment, but also about to access to jobs itself. We have spoken about the idea of changing work coaches into work advocates and bringing the welfare state into the workplace. We need to work with employers all the time so disabled people are not cut off from the work force or feel they cannot access it. Building those relationships with employers would be better than only being supported to apply for jobs on a one-off basis.

Job coaching and supported employment schemes can work for people with learning disabilities. But a lot of the government funded ones just don’t work for people with disabilities and learning disabilities.  They don’t provide specialist support. For example, in my organisation we have specially supported internships which have been successful. Young people who were doing internships and as a result getting into jobs and successfully holding them down, but it does require that specialist support.

In the Government schemes, there is no easy read information, and no further specialist support for people with learning difficulties who may not understand and face different challenges. There is no one size fits all. They are being set up to fail by these programmes like Kickstart. For example, 6 months in not enough time, people with disabilities may need ongoing support throughout having that job. These things can work but they need investment. The programmes need to flexible in addressing people’s individual needs.

25–60-year-olds are left out completely. I have been on benefits for around 7 years and have never had any contact from any member of any benefits team at all. I would love to go back to work but being immobile has made it challenging. For example, I am looking at standing as a local councillor, but I approached my MP, and they questioned my disabilities to my face and my ability to do the job. Reasonable adjustments for me would be to make the job hybrid where necessary, but the option or the willingness to do so just hasn’t been there.

The problem is people end up on job seekers benefit where there is a lot of pressure to find work and it can be stress and anxiety inducing, or, they end up on another type of benefit where they are forgotten about. There is no in-between. We need positive and proactive support to check in and communicate with people on these different types of benefits and how they are getting on.

There are people with complex needs who may never be able to have a job, and then there is a constant feeling that thy can’t contribute without having a paid job. But there are many other worthwhile things that people are doing, for example being active in their local communities, that go unrecognised. Media outlets have given some people the mindset that your worth is only based on your paid work which is very difficult for disabled people who might want to work but can’t for whatever reason.

The current system seems to not be a system that is based on what is best for the individual and what they want for themselves in terms of work and employment support.

There is nowhere to go for disabled people to get careers advice. Schools often don’t offer it, and job centres are not really equipped for that either.  It would be a massive help to encourage people to engage with getting back into work when they are ready if these services were readily available, and they were specialised.

We need to work on developing employers understanding around what it means to employ a disabled person. There is a fear factor for businesses and employers – they may think it costs a lot of money, or the employees will be unreliable due to their disability. But we know lots of these fears come from not having a good understanding. The public sector needs to be setting a better example on this and should be developing schemes to employ more disabled people. We often find that the private sector is more engaged and are having greater success with these schemes.

Legal Aid

Legal advisors, citizens advice etc, don’t have sufficient training to work effectively with people with disabilities. For people with learning disabilities, which often manifests differently to physical disabilities, special training would be needed. For example, knowing that when someone with a learning disability says, ‘I understand’, that often they might not understand but don’t want to admit it. Legal aid advisors need to know how to check understanding, by asking the right questions and understanding how some may process information in different ways.

In the last 20 years, there has been a massive reduction in access to legal aid which has had a huge impact on disabled people’s access to benefits in terms of knowing what benefits they are entitled to. The welfare system is already not working for disabled people, and the system that is supposed to support them through it is failing them too. Lots of people aren’t even represented at tribunals and therefore have much less chance of success.

Around 40% of parents with a learning disability have had their children taken away from them and that cannot be right. In terms of legal aid, although parents with a disability are entitled to it, there are issues around the legal representatives lacking the appropriate training, and not knowing how to interact with the parents. And the same goes for a lack of understanding in about these disabilities in the courts and the whole process of tribunals etc.

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