Sense responds to consultation on proposed benefits changes

Two people sat at a table, one is writing notes on paper whilst the other looks on

Working from home. It’s something a lot of us – though not all – have become familiar with in the past few years.

According to the Government, this growth in flexible working has made the workplace fairer for disabled people. So much so, in fact, that they think it justifies the toughening up of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

As we said after the proposals were announced in September, we are very concerned about the proposals.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ consultation on the proposals, which closed this week, was an opportunity for us to tell the Government why we are convinced this is the wrong approach.

Why are we concerned?

In our response to the consultation, we said that tightening eligibility for the LCWRA could mean fewer disabled people getting the financial support they need. While those in the LCWRA group receive an extra £390.06 a month in Universal Credit, claimants in the LCW group do not receive anything at all. 

What’s more, tightening eligibility for the LCW and LCWRA groups could lead to some disabled people being required to look for work when employment isn’t right for them.

Despite this, it’s worth emphasising that these are just proposals. Even if they are adopted, they won’t come into effect until 2025 at the earliest. And with the Government set to begin phasing out the WCA altogether from 2025/2027, the changes would only come into force for a short period of time.

But we do not believe these proposals should not be introduced at all. With our research finding that, even before the cost-of-living crisis, a quarter of people with complex disabilities could not afford to keep warm, disabled people need more financial support – not less.

The limits of flexible working

As well as having the potential to make life harder for disabled people, the proposals are based on flawed assumptions.

The Government’s consultation paper argues that the growth in homeworking and flexible working has reduced the need for disabled people to physically go to a workplace, removing most of the barriers they face.

As we say in our consultation response, this is an oversimplification.

It’s true that the growing acceptance of flexible working and homeworking has benefited some disabled employees. But to say that it has transformed the world of work is misleading.

This is clear from the size of the disability employment gap, which still stood at 29% in January 2023 – only slightly lower than the 30.8% seen in 2016.  

Most disabled employees don’t work from home

Reading the consultation paper, you would think that significantly more disabled employees than non-disabled people had benefited from the growth in homeworking. But the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently concluded that ‘it is not clear…that individuals have particularly benefited from this shift’.

Official statistics back this up. Not only has the Office for National Statistics found that disabled employees are only marginally more likely to work exclusively from home, they’ve also found that almost half of disabled employees can’t work from home at all. A quarter work at both the workplace and at home, while only 18% work from home alone.

That means that most disabled employees still face barriers linked to physically going to a workplace.

Some barriers to employment are getting worse

And it’s not just that many of the barriers to employment disabled people face are still there. Some of them have even worsened over the past few years.

Access to Work, for example, funds specialist support and equipment for disabled people in workplace. But’s been getting harder to access the scheme, with the backlog in applications tripling between February 2020 and January 2023. In some cases, the wait for Access to Work has led to employers withdrawing their job offers from disabled people.

Clearly, even after the growth in flexible working, disabled people continue to face a range of barriers to employment.

What should the Government do instead?

The Government have argued that tightening eligibility for the LCWRA group will give more disabled people the support they need to look for work. But we think it would be more effective for the Department for Work and Pensions to address the gaps in the support it currently offers to jobseekers with complex disabilities.

Our recent employment research found that half of jobseekers with complex disabilities did not have the support and equipment they needed to look for work. That’s not surprising, given that we also found that no computers in jobcentres have the specialist assistive technology some disabled people would need to use them. 

Without access to this specialist assistive technology, some disabled people, unlike non-disabled people, don’t have the option of using computers onsite to look for work and fill in job applications.

That’s why we’re calling for the Government to introduce a £5 million Jobcentre Assistive Technology Fund. This would cover the cost of equipping every jobcentre with specialist assistive technology.

What Sense will do next

Now that we’ve submitted our response to consultation on the proposed changes to change the WCA, we’ll be continuing to try and persuade politicians and civil servants to scrap the proposals. But we’ll also be working with the DWP to improve the support available to jobseekers with complex disabilities, making sure that anyone who wants to work gets the help they need to do so.