Posted by Camilla Brueton, Wednesday 8th February, 2012
This conference raised many issues for me, not least the “commercialization” of the welfare to work industry was laid very bare - though here it was called “professionalization”. It’s clear to me that being unemployed in this context is seen as the “fault” of the “unemployable” individual and that the prevailing belief behind this commercialization is that the right guidance and information will solve the problem. When it comes to disabled people, this can be hard to stomach, when we know that disabled people have a higher rate of unemployment, are clustered in low paid jobs and face barriers not of their own making. These barriers are created by employers and advisers underestimating disabled peoples’ capabilities, underestimating the effects of attitudinal, environmental, communication and institutional barriers and overestimating the ability of individuals to “overcome” or “cope with” barriers not of their own making. Plus lack of knowledge of Access to Work.
I am all for supporting individuals, I know there is some great work being done and we did hear about some of this at this event. I was interested in the programmes run by Reigate and Banstead Council to get young people into employment – although when I asked how many were disabled, he couldn’t tell me. But he was apologetic and did ask me to contact him – which I intend to do.
In the workshop I attended, I was a bit taken aback to hear one stout chap declare that it was time to stop “pink and fluffy” organisations doing their stuff and get in to the real world. This followed my suggestion that work is not the be all and end all of existence and that supporting people to gain greater self esteem and self worth was a good end in itself and would also help them to be more “employable”, without that being the only reason for the support.
The “black box” approach often referred to at this event means that companies providing welfare to work can do whatever they like as long as they get people into secure jobs. They don’t get the minimum payment until someone is in work and only get the maximum if that person stays in work and claims no benefits for two years. So the business is hardly a secure one to run and jobs have to be found for people to stay in to keep the businesses going.
I was intrigued by the slide put up by Neil Couling, Director Benefit Strategy, Department for Work and Pensions to show that people fall into eight attitudinal groups in relation to employment, divided into three sections – Seeking, Believe Can’t Seek and Choose not to Seek. Looking at the “Believe can’t Seek” section, where two groups were shown:
Constrained by circumstance – Feel trapped by personal circumstances that make ‘normal’ work impractical - desire the job ‘in a million’ that can fit in around them
Defeated by circumstance - Lack of belief in their capability means they are resigned to an existence without work
I asked how the external factors affecting a disabled individual (barriers put up by employers and the lack of jobs) could be dealt with – the very point picked up in the Guardian article on February 1st by Amelia Gentleman “After all the pep talks and CV workshops, where are the jobs?”. I was told it was down to individual’s perception of their circumstances.
To conclude, I believe this work programme – about the outcomes of which we still know very little due to the non availability of statistics (no figures will be released until the various schemes have been in existence for 18 months) – will have both success stories and failures; some people will benefit, many will not; it will not overcome the effects of the social and economic reality in which many unemployed disabled people live. The people who will definitely be employed are those running the schemes. It is not in my nature to be cynical and I do believe that individuals are often capable of more than they realize and should be encouraged to stretch themselves. The difficulty here is that I struggle to see the balance in this approach that focuses so strongly on improving the individual (without necessarily having recognition of, and empathy with, their specific personal issues and circumstances) and not sufficiently on the external circumstances (so much worse in some areas of the country than others) to improve the numbers of people in work. Why not reduce the hours of some of those working too many and becoming stressed – creating more jobs at a stroke? I also don’t believe in work as the only panacea for all ills.
More positively, for Accentuate, there are real opportunities to provide support – mentoring, volunteering and internships, work experience and other opportunities for young disabled arts and sports people and for employers and potential employers that can improve the situation.
The Ideas Hub group ensures that the views and contributions of disabled people inform every level of the programme.
This is a group of key thinkers within the disability cultural sector initially drawn from the original Our View Core Group. We also aim to attract other deaf and disabled leaders to contribute to specialist areas of work. The Accentuate Ideas Hub lead debate concerning disability issues and disability cultural thinking.
The Ideas Hub perform advocacy for Accentuate at national and potentially international level. They will also develop innovative ideas about new projects and areas of work. This hub will ensure Deaf and disabled people continue to lead and inform Accentuate.