Lookahead to the Health and Disability White Paper

Sometime before the Spring Budget in mid-March, the Department for Work and Pensions will likely publish its ‘Health and Disability’ White Paper. As we await its publication our Policy, Public Affairs and Research team have analysed what we’d like to see it contain.

Like many other charities Sense responded to the Green Paper that the Government published in 2021. We felt that the Green Paper didn’t go far enough to address the fundamental issues facing people with complex disabilities who use the welfare system, like the fact that the application process is long, complicated and often inaccessible. Neither did it focus enough on meeting the needs of the whole person.

On its own, the Green Paper’s proposals wouldn’t do much to change the fact that, according to Sense research, only 13 per cent of people with complex disabilities are in full-time work.

Nevertheless, there were some positive ideas in the Green Paper that we’re keen to see taken forward in the upcoming White Paper.

What do we want to see taken forward in the Green Paper?

Severe Disability Group

The people we support often tell us that they find the process of applying for benefits stressful. Yet many people go through repeated assessments despite there being no change in their condition or impairment. We believe this should change.

That’s why we welcomed the Green Paper’s commitment to begin testing a ‘Severe Disability Group’. Those who meet the criteria for this group would be able to access PIP and Universal Credit without having to go through an assessment or fill in a detailed application form.

After the idea was first proposed in the Green Paper, we worked with civil servants to remove the most restrictive criteria, meaning more of the people we support would be able to benefit from the Severe Disability Group.

The Department for Work and Pensions has since begun testing the Severe Disability Group. But that doesn’t mean that they will carry it forward. We’re hoping the White Paper will commit to rolling out the Severe Disability Group to everyone who is eligible.  

Reform to the Work Capability Assessment

The Green Paper proposed changes to the assessment used to decide whether someone is entitled to Universal Credit because their condition or impairment affects their ability to work. (This is known as the Work Capability Assessment.) It proposed to introduce a separate ‘employment and health discussion’ that would focus on the work an applicant could do with the right support. (This is one of the proposals that recently caught the eye of the press.)

It is crucial that the emphasis of this new ‘employment and health discussion’ is on supporting disabled people who want to work to overcome the barriers to employment they face. It can’t be yet another way of putting pressure on disabled people to look for work when it is not an appropriate outcome for them at that time.

Done well, this new ‘employment and health discussion’ could increase awareness of the support that is available to disabled people both before and after entering employment. It could also help Work Coaches and Disability Employment Advisors to better understand how they can provide tailored support to each disabled jobseeker.

What else should the Green Paper include?

Alongside the proposals we know that the Government are considering there are additional areas that we will be looking out for.

Making the system accessible

Disabled people often receive information and forms in formats that are inappropriate for their information and communication needs. This leaves them reliant on friends, family or support services while applying for and managing their benefits claim.

This is not acceptable. Yet the Green Paper did not set out any concrete steps to address the issue. We’re hoping the White Paper will accept our recommendations to make the system more accessible – such as by introducing accessibility standards across the Department for Work and Pensions.

Ensuring Jobcentres properly address the barriers disabled people face

We sometimes hear from disabled people that individual Jobcentres, Work Coaches and Disability Employment Advisors provide them with support that meets their needs as a disabled person. But this is not universal.

Computers at Jobcentres, for example, do not have any additional assistive technology installed. This means that some disabled people cannot apply or look for work onsite. But not every jobseeker who needs assistive technology can afford to use it at home – making it even harder for them to find work. This is something we hope the White Paper will address.

Continuing to pay benefits for disabled people in work

Media reports suggest that the Government ‘has not ruled out’ allowing disabled people to continue claiming part or all of their out-of-work disability benefits (i.e. Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance) after entering work. This was not something proposed in the Green Paper, and there’s no guarantee it will make its way into the White Paper either.

If the Government do decide to propose this measure, it could be positive. As well as meaning that disabled people in work would have more money to pay for the extra costs they face, it could help to ensure there is no financial disincentive to entering work. But, at the moment, this is just speculation. We will have to wait until the White Paper to see if it is actually in there.

What’s next?

We expect the White Paper to be published before the Spring Budget in March. The Department for Work and Pensions will also soon be concluding a review into economic inactivity (which includes disabled people who cannot work).

We’ll be keeping an eye on both of these to make sure they offer disabled people the support they need to get into work – and holding the Government to account if they don’t.