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This week the Disability Union took part in the DWP Disability Green Paper Consultation Event in London.

The aim of the meeting was for prominent disability charities and organisations to discuss and suggest changes to the working practice of the Department for Work and Pensions. 

Members of the DWP team were there and actively engaged with the invited audience.

As a union of Disabled people and carers with many hundreds of members it was pivotal that our suggestions were noted and our voices, complaints, ideas, and experiences were listened to.

Questions of improvement were asked of the Union. The questions revolved around the following topics: 

Benefits

Employment

The attitude of DWP staff

Job Centre accessibility

With regards to Benefits, the Union suggested the following:

When first gaining employment we suggested there be a grace period of benefit payments (if any are affected by potential employment) Many people across the country see an instant withdrawal of benefits when informing the DWP of gaining employment, this leaves a financial gap in household budgets which exacerbate poverty, stress, and mental health. There should be a grace period until the first payday, NOT a bridging loan. This should also be the case when employment FOR WHATEVER REASON is ended, there must be no financial gap for the community.

The benefits system can cover this cost as there is excess money within the system and disability and care communities are among the smallest of claimants.

PIP assessments if not to be withdrawn should be revamped into a more empathetic, humane, and less cold and threatening scenario. Doctors’ notes are available and with permission from the individual should be allowed to be viewed by any assessor. The pressure and humiliation felt by many when being assessed is an affront to dignity. If assessments are to continue then an impartial and fully medically qualified individual must be doing the assessment.

There must be absolutely NO penalisation or withdrawal of ANY benefit if the claimant misses an interview if in a hospital or is unable to access public transport to make ANY meeting regarding employment or otherwise.

The benefits system is overly complex and inaccessible for the majority. Many are unaware of the possible benefits they can claim as the messaging is not fit for purpose. The union suggested an overhaul of the form filling system to make it less complex, intrusive, medically negative, and off-putting. There needs to be more openness of what can be claimed without the bias of benefits being a stigma, people NEED to know what there is to rightly claim.

The DWP needs a drastic PR overhaul, it is supposed to be a service to assist and inform, not to give the impression of a cold, distant machine focused on progressing poverty and fear.

With regards to Employment, the union suggested the following:

All employers if seeking to employ disabled staff must take employment training. While we appreciate not all managers/HR will become experts, there must be conversations with employees with disabilities to determine the best support.

Staff training is essential and should be constantly updated.

Reasonable adjustment in a work environment does not go far enough and needs expansion.

Designated support worker at DWP to be a bridge between employee/DWP/owner

With regards to the attitude of the DWP, the union suggested the following:

The DWP needs to work with local groups/partnerships countrywide so these groups can act as additional support to disabled people within that area. Partnerships with local support groups such as citizens’ advice etc are imperative, the DWP needs to lose the appearance of a heartless government body. The emphasis must be on SUPPORT/EMPATHY/UNDERSTANDING

DWP staff need constant inclusive training not only to deal with disability claimants but also to be more honestly empathetic with callers. The staff also (prior to employment) should: 

Volunteer in a local disability group

Or

Work with a charitable organisation to see and witness the community.

We don’t mean to suggest a week or month but at least some time in said environment. It is imperative they understand those they are working with.

Support, understanding, and patience are vital in any conversation with a disabled person. If the caller feels ignored or misunderstood they should have to option to transfer to another individual. Relationships must be built between caller and employee.

The government sets targets on a number of calls, success rates, etc (if any) that must be removed. They are dealing with people, not statistics.

The union hopes.

We are of course not expecting miracles with our suggestions to the DWP. We hope the majority of suggestions could be implemented of course. 

Many of the staff from the DWP we discussed these ideas with were indeed young disabled people. So the hope is that they are working from within with our collected thoughts (from our members and community) to begin an overhaul of a Government department that sadly instills so much fear in people who are simply trying to survive.

The Disability Union.

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