The green paper set out the government’s plans to cut in half the employment gap between people with disabilities and the rest of the population.
According to the government, 4.6 million people with disabilities and long-term conditions are out of work. The government has said it aims to put at least 1 million of these people into work through the strategies proposed in its green paper.
For people with epilepsy, employment is a very big issue. Some people report discrimination at work because of their epilepsy, while others say they struggle to find a job when they have mentioned their condition.
The Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health worked together to produce the green paper. It covers a number of issues to do with unemployment, including sick pay, fit notes and the Work Capability Assessment, offering plans to improve these.
Work and pensions secretary, Damian Green, said: “We must be bold in our ambition to help disabled people and those with health conditions. This green paper marks the start of our action to confront the attitudes, prejudices and misunderstandings that… have become ingrained within the welfare state, within the minds of employers and across wider society.”
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “This green paper launches a wide-ranging debate about recognising the value of work as a health outcome.” He added that the value of work for wellbeing is becoming clearer and that this paper is an opportunity to improve people’s health.
The publishing of this green paper is a welcome step in the right direction. However, critics say that it hasn’t set a timeframe for its goal of halving the disability unemployment gap and it lacks milestones to assess effectiveness.
The plans in the green paper include a review of the Statutory Sick Pay, aiming to help boost supportive conversations and gradual returns to work. The government will also consider extending fit notes from GPs to other healthcare professionals, to help people receive more tailored support.
The paper has also set out plans to create a Disability Confident Business Leaders Group to help more employers get involved and engaged with disabled employment.
The government plans to consult on the Work Capability Assessment, which has previously been criticised for its harshness. It will also consult on the process for assessing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and the ability to work of people claiming Universal Credit. The aim is to end the black-and-white ‘can work’ and ‘can’t work’ groups, the green paper says.
The green paper discusses developing trials to find ways in which health-led services can help to get people with disabilities and long-term conditions back into work. It also wants to work with healthcare organisations to highlight the benefits of work.
A new Personal Support Package has also been highlighted in the green paper. Through this package, the government wants to encourage more positive rather than negative conversations between people on ESA and their work coaches. It also wants to improve the Jobcentre Plus services through recruiting more Community Partners, extending ‘Journey to Employment’ job clubs and trialling a voluntary work programme for young people.
Hope to see a real change
Simon Wigglesworth, deputy chief executive at Epilepsy Action, said: “We welcome the publication of this green paper and hope it leads to real change for people with epilepsy. Figures from 2014 suggest that as many as 70% of people with epilepsy are not employed. We have no reason to believe this figure has improved since 2014.
“We would like to see evidence of more people with epilepsy being supported and given the confidence to get a job and stay in work. But we need to see employers doing their bit too. We hope they engage with the consultation process and take steps to understand the nature of fluctuating long-term conditions like epilepsy.”
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