Today, the UK’s employment level stands at a record high. Wages are rising, particularly amongst the self-employed. There are hundreds of thousands of job vacancies.
But that positive story of jobs isn’t shared equally across all parts of society. The rewards of work – and there are many, and not just financial ones – are being denied to certain groups, particularly to disabled people and those with health conditions.
Disabled people face a disability employment gap of 32 percentage points, which has changed little despite an impressive half a million more disabled people being in work than three years ago. And 150,000 in employment fall out of work each quarter due to ill health.
That percentage gap represents a gap in the opportunity of millions of disabled people to have the independence and security that a pay packet can bring, as well as the social, health and psychological benefits work and meaningful activity bring.
We must close the disability employment gap. That means government stepping up, and working together with employers and society to ensure we offering help where help is needed.
Our welfare and health services must work for everyone. That means ensuring that all the help and support is wrapped around the person when they need them, not trying to make the person fit the system.
Such support must be better targeted, and not just triggered or denied depending on if you qualify for a particular benefit. We must judge our success on more than a person moving off a particular benefit, but rather in the distance they have travelled to meet their own ambitions. Recognising that someone cannot work should not be a license to stop thinking about what support they might need.
There are many aspects of government support we need to look at and the Work Capability Assessment, a gateway to Employment Support Allowance (ESA), should be a priority.
In the last 12 months, half of people who attended a Work Capability Assessment were deemed too ill to work, or even prepare for work, at that time. For some of these people work is an ambition they have but currently they have to wait to get support they may wish to access immediately.
While assessments are an important part of the system, we must recognise where things aren’t working, as we did with our announcement to stop ESA reassessments for those with the most severe health conditions and disabilities.
So we will consult on the Work Capability Assessment to ensure those with the most severe needs can receive the support they need when they need it. We will also review Statutory Sick Pay so it enables a phased return to work if that is best for the employee.
We must look at all the support a person needs and its timeliness and accessibility. How can we make things easier, reduce form filling in, reduce assessments, make better use of the information we already have about someone housed in a different bit of the system.
It’s time we had a welfare system that puts the person at its heart, that recognises it is just one cog in a persons support, and just one part of that persons journey, that is focussed on their ambitions as well as their basic needs and that is capable of providing the bespoke package they need.
Only then will be give all our citizens the chance to reach their full potential. And unless they do our nation never will.