In light of evidence being revealed about the background to Work Capability Assessments and the welfare state’s treatment of people with disabilities, it is worth recalling a whole section of the original aims to remove people from disability living allowance who can go back to work: Reasonable Adjustments in the workplace and working against discrimination in the recruitment process.
Here is a link to a study on successful societies, saying they can be measured by how inclusive they are. From 2005-2006, I worked on a magazine called The Arberry Profile, which focused on graduate opportunities for people with disabilities, when part of the moves to get people with disabilities into work and to find ineligible claimants and remove their benefits was accompanied by a push to encourage more employers to recruit people with disabilities. There was the clumsily named Access to Work scheme, that got employers to pay for devices such as hearing aids for people with disabilities who had found employment to help them in their work and funding for “reasonable adjustments” to help employers make their workplaces more accessible with ramps, specialised computers with software for blind people such as Opera or with Loop systems for hearing aid wearers.
Anne McQuire was the Minister for Disabled People and she appeared at various events, such as drinks in the Docklands to promote “equal opportunities” employers in the banking sector. Simon Minty’s comedy troupe Abnormally Funny People gave a performance at one such event. For the Arberry Profile, I interviewed three graduates working in Barclays who each required different access requirements.
The Employers’ Forum on Disability worked hard to gather evidence for a business case for employers recruiting people with various disabilities, much of which the Conservative Government has eroded. Funding was withdrawn from organisations such as Remploy, which employed people with disabilities, taking away their income and, most of all, removing all onus on employers to make their workplaces more diverse and accessible to people with various disabilities. The aptly named Business Case for Employers, drawn up by the Employers Forum on Disability, which recognised employers – particularly law firms – who were good employers of disabled people, showed:
- The disposable income of people with disabilities. (Massively reduced by the Conservatives).
- The legal advantages to reducing discrimination in the workplace and in the selection process.
- The reduced costs of recruiting people with disabilities from less days taken off sick and greater loyalty to the firm (backed up with clear evidence)..
- The increased experience and solution finding in creating greater accessibility to the business, premises or service for customers from people employed with disabilities.
- The increased productivity achieved in workplaces with more diversity in the workplace.
Myself, I am definitely fit for work but not fit for disability living allowance or, so I have found, for full-time employment in most workplaces. I have been self-employed since 2006, requiring me to do a tax return each year, an extra challenge for someone with Dyspraxia for whom paperwork and linear organisation do not come naturally and during 18 years of working life in London, I achieved full-time employment for nine of them.
I was born hard of hearing with over 50 decibel hearing loss in both ears and in 2006, I found I was Dyspraxic, which explained all the rejection when I had applied for secretarial work. Nonetheless, I have never given up and went every day to Job Club when i claimed Jobseekers Allowance in the 1990s under a Tory Government. This is when i first started to notice the burden laid on “jobseekers” by the welfare state. I had gained entry to the most competitive journalism college in the country with a two-year waiting list and while applying for hopeless opportunities at Job Club, I wrote some articles on the computers for which I was shouted at and scolded by the Job Club staff. “You should be looking for a job!” they bellowed, while these words in red capital letters scrolled across all the computer screens.
Not a career. Not a vocation or a skilled profession. A job.
The burden laid on jobseekers was finding jobs that were very grudgingly advertised to them after everyone else first, for vacancies that may already have been filled, amongst a workforce who would bitterly defend their jobs by employers who had stigma against people on the dole, with the lack of confidence derived from being spoken down to like a dysfunctional parent tells a child not to do something “because I told you so.”.
During a stint in Job Plan Workshop (the lady leading it was really nice but was called Pauline and did collect her pens at the end of each session with her flip chart just before League of Gentlemen went on air) I was taken to Teddington Studios to be in the audience of an airing of Kilroy to talk about the unemployed. Next to me sat a smartly dressed girl who had just lost her job in the Employment Service and another girl who had just finished her teacher training and could not find a job.
I was set up to argue with an employer in front of me who thought Jobseekers wasted his time in interviews (I agreed with his experiences and burned up with the rejection of my lack of opportunity) and eventually was asked about my experience and said I tried my best but couldn’t get a job. Little did I know that there was a camera pointing right at me that could see me sweating and shaking with nerves, one of the effects I had developed from the outright rejection I had received for jobs that I could have done well at.
From 2003 to 2004, I worked for Deafblind UK as a Communicator Guide and one client was a man in his 40s who had Cerebral Palsy as well as being Deaf and Blind due to Rubella Syndrome called Mark. He would have given his right arm to have been employed somewhere he felt useful. He wrote and performed his own song about politics and co-wrote an article with me for the local newspaper, but he also volunteered in a local charity shop.
In 2004 he helped me organise and run, invited his friends to watch and performed at an evening of live radio for an audience of blind people, which included a soap opera, game shows and live music by a panel including musicians and blind actors. This raised money for Action for Blind People and was reviewed in the local newspaper as well as receiving notice from Channel Four and BBC Radio.
However, under changes to the welfare state, he was required to work for his support allowance. This was the first time I had seen a kind of slavery emerging which exploited people with disabilities, to take away their dignity and power for the profit of unseen corporate interests, or this is how it seemed to me at the time. This enforced manual labour brought a small strain on the public purse for Mark to take a taxi to and fro to the factory 40 minutes away, while at no public cost, Mark could have taken computer classes three miles away in the neighbouring borough during time with his guide and he would have been around other blind people to chat to within an environment suited to movement with a white cane.
Therefore, the welfare state was spending more to take dignity and freedom away from a man with severe disabilities rather than allow him his rights: to be useful and make a contribution to his community.
Under this Conservative Government, all the focus has come away from the employment sector and is now beamed at the unemployed. If you can be deemed fit for work by rubbing your head, why can’t you get a job just by rubbing your head in the interview? Where is the onus on employers to be able to recognise the contributions of people with disabilities to their bottom lines? Where is the law to reduce discrimination in the selection process, which leads sections of the community to become wary of who they apply to, as no one wants to be rejected out of hand without real feedback. Being fobbed off after a job interview can be an indication that discrimination was at play in the selection process, that an employer led towards a homogeneous workforce of people who were just like themselves, with no diversity as they clearly were not that bothered by minority groups amongst their customers either.
It has never been about positive discrimination in favour of minorities, it has always been about inclusiveness and creating a level playing field for the benefit of all.
On top of the people who have lost their lives under this government, there are many more who have had their dignity and basic human rights taken away from them. This, in my view, is criminal and much can be done to rectify the situation.
Firstly the welfare state needs to take responsibility, recognise its failures and use qualified people who can recognise the behaviour patterns of the tiny fraction of ineligible claimants instead of making these people their main focus (is this a case of “takes one to know one”?) and to stop treating the majority like a tiny minority and start to give people the benefit of the doubt or at least listen to their GP. More so, we need to focus on the employment sector and stop the complacency that has spread like a virus, leading to unfair treatment and under payment of workers, leaving alienated customers feeling like they no longer matter.
Let’s stop the rot.