bRITAIN'S WASTED TALENT
What does the reaction to Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement indicate? Much stronger national feeling than expected about the poor and disadvantaged being made poorer and more disadvantaged allegedly because of the national debt and its financial pressures. Every Sunak genuflection in the direction of concern beyond a Thatcherite version of fiscal responsibility - and potential support from the Conservative Party for his future bid for the leadership - turns out to offer too little money for those on poverty level incomes. The Treasury’s priorities were duly noted.
Divide the promised millions of tax cuts by several years and by the number of beneficiaries, subtract inflation and energy bills, you end up with derisory amounts allocated to helping those living in poverty, in short their growing impoverishment by default. Too little spread between too many for too long. Yet the Chancellor spends taxpayers’ money that you might suppose would be spent in keeping with the values of the majority of taxpayers.
Since 2010 the relationship of government departments, and cash-strapped local authorities, to needy citizens has increasingly become that of begrudging benefactor to struggling supplicant. The NHS, Education, Justice, and Local Government Services have all been squeezed to the point of breakdown. In each instance the impact of this decline affects people with disability more severely than the rest of the public. Britain’s population is ageing and suffers from a very high level of diabetes. For this reason, a startling figure of some 15 million people are counted as disabled or suffer from long term illness.
Those seeking their due in benefits from different government departments encounter lengthy form-filling, ill-informed assessments down a telephone and general bureaucratic delays reminiscent of the Home Office’s hostile environment aimed at repelling migrants. Too often to get what is their – anyway inadequate - due people with disability have to rely on recourse to the courts. For instance, in 2017 alone some 4,600 claimants with disability were found to have had their Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) incorrectly stopped by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
Government presents employment as the way out of poverty. More than 2 million people in the UK are living with sight loss. The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) estimate that 27% of people of working age with visual disability live in poverty. Their monthly cost of living is higher than that of the general population. Despite public sympathy, finding employment commensurate with their skills represents one of the biggest barriers to equal participation of the blind and visually impaired in society. According to research commissioned by the RNIB only 1 in 4 blind and partially sighted people of working age are in employment, a figure that has worsened in the last decade.
See My Skills, a Vision Foundation (originally the 1921 greater London Fund for the Blind) report published last year, proposes ways to increase employment among the blind and visually impaired. “I’m staggered by the information in the See My Skills report,” Lord Blunkett, the Vision Foundation’s vice president, added. “Just over 25% of blind and partially sighted people of working age have a job. That’s the exact reverse of the population as a whole. It’s a question of perception: understanding what people can and can’t do and then the practicalities of giving them the tools so they can do the job. Not every job is possible, but the vast majority are. I accept I won’t be on the pitch at Wembley tonight, but I know what I can and can’t do!”
Funding for the support and equipment required by the sight-impaired at work depends on dealing successfully with the DWP – which since September 2021 has a Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Chloe Smith MP. The 2010 Equality Act requires employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to mitigate disability in the workplace. In theory the partially sighted worker can expect DWP funding for these adjustments including an assistant support worker. In reality applying for this assistance can seem like negotiating a deliberately created obstacle course.
A cost benefit analysis by the former Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, a small NGO much cited in the press, concludes that the benefits of government funding enabling the blind and visually impaired to find work and supporting them in the workplace “clearly outweigh costs”. Not a Keynesian argument but simply pointing out the fact that welfare spending would be reduced and tax revenue increased were the visually impaired in work, as they wish to be, rather than claiming benefits. Paying a support worker, if needed, would even create extra employment opportunities for others whilst the need for mental health services would very likely be reduced. The experience of disability and its consequences for the economy could be transformed by a change in priorities and attitude by the DWP and Treasury.
But we must not forget employers, they can also be an obstacle for the visually impaired. Those who do not offer jobs to people with disabilities may be using inaccessible recruitment processes and may well be ignorant of the provisions in Prime Minister John Major’s 1994 Access to Work legislation which provides support for moving the disabled into work. Such employers probably and wrongly assume that the partially sighted can’t operate laptops and are in danger in the workplace. They miss out on a pool of potentially loyal and skilled staff. “Thousands of blind and partially sighted people are being excluded from the workplace because employers see their disability and not their skills”, the See My Skills report concludes.
For a variety of reasons, not least BREXIT and the pandemic, we are suffering from a serious labour shortage. Yet a reservoir of unemployed people with disabilities who want to work is considered a drain on government spending. This does not make sense. By putting economic good sense and well-being above narrow political interest, government has the opportunity to go with the grain of national feeling and respond to what is still today a shocking waste of talent.
See also TheArticle 01/04/202
All so true--- well done and thank you
Leave a Reply.