Interview: Minster for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson calls on disabled people to have their say on benefits and employment

The new Health and Disability Green paper launched yesterday (20 July) focuses on overhauling the benefits system and getting one million more disabled people into paid employment. Minster for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson speaks about the new paper to editor, Lorne Gillies.

Initially scheduled for release in summer 2020, the Shaping
Future Support: The Health and Disability Green paper is a significant step in improving the experiences of the disabled community by directly listening to disabled people, organisations, charities and stakeholders.

“I’m really excited about the paper,” enthuses Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson. “There are two key parts to the paper: disability benefits and disability employment.”

CONSULTING

Most importantly, all steps placed into the Green paper have been brought to light from the disabled community with disabled people being called on to share their thoughts and opinions, alongside critiques for 12-weeks.

You can share your views on the Health and Disability Green paper here

The Minister continues: “When I talk to young disabled people and ask them to think about being the Minister for the day, what would they do? 

“Nearly always, young disabled people say that they want to have the same opportunities that their friends take for granted and that is predominantly around employment.

We are very, very keen for people to formally feed in over the 12-weeks because we will then reflect and we will then legislate for many of the changes. Most of the topics we have discussed we will need to change the legislation to become permanent features.”

Looking to organise events both virtually and in-person – subject to coronavirus guidelines – alongside an online form where people can fill in their information either as an individual, an organisation or both: this is a critical time to have your voice heard.

Furthermore, the Green paper consultation does not need to be filled out in full. If there is a specific area you are passionate about or advocate for, that is also being requested. 

Taking into consideration everything put forward in consultations, the Minister for Disabled People and his Officers and team will bring forward proposals in a White Paper, scheduled for 2022.

ACCESS BENEFITS

Getting the right benefits you are entitled to as a disabled person or unpaid carer is imperative for your overall health and wellbeing. However, access to benefits can be challenging and cause increased stress.

It is hoped the Green paper will focus on providing more support for disabled people and people with health conditions to allow them to easily access and use the benefits service.

The Minister reveals: “The disability benefits are the big one. We spend around £26bn a year on benefits, but £2.7bn a year goes unclaimed and that is 700,000 vulnerable families in the UK missing out on £270 per month.”

Focusing on supportive evidence, the Green paper sets out to ensure that people receive quicker, more accurate decisions on their benefits.

Speaking directly to GPs, the Minister learned that many GPs have thousands of patients but do not have all their accurate details, leaving a margin of error on who is entitled to benefits.

“I was surprised,” the Minister continues. “Can we broaden the evidence we get? A good example is if you are diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND), do I really need the GP to tell me? Or, will I just take what the MND nurse has to say because they have to fundraise for their provisions. An MND nurse is not going to provide that provision to someone who doesn’t have MND. That is an obvious example.

“Another obvious example: you could have a PIP assessment in January and get the highest level of support after going through the entire process. In March, you are applying for a different benefit. 

“Even though both benefits are run by the DWP, we don’t automatically share that evidence. 

“We think with an individual’s permission we can share the evidence, the beauty here is significantly increase the chance of a paper-based review, which is much quicker and you don’t have to go back to your GP or health professional.”

Looking at how the world has adapted due to the pandemic, the Minister also highlights that video and telephone assessments were already being considered, but this was accelerated due to COVID and it is hoped this format of assessment will still be possible going forward.

“The absolute principle is to remove unnecessary assessments,” emphasises the Minister

THE EMPLOYMENT GAP

In terms of employment, the need to bridge the disability employment gap has never been more pertinent.

“One in five people in the UK have a health condition or disability, and most of those people will get a disability or health condition whilst at working age: employers need to be more confident with their skillset to support people,” explains the Minister.

“We currently lose 300,000 people a year, so we are looking at ways we can provide better guidance and looking at how to support the employer as well as the employee. 

“Also, we need to look at progression: it’s all very well getting someone’s foot in the door, but we need focus on prospects and opportunities that everyone else takes for granted.”

One section of the Green paper looks at how the government can help to better support people into work, with one example of ‘grace periods’ adopted in France when benefits an individual is entitled to is amended due to getting into employment.

It is hoped that these steps will better ensure people are not missing out on vital extra funding but also not being blocked from getting into work for fear of losing money.

ADAPTED FORMATS

To ensure everyone in the disabled community has access to the Green paper, alternative formats can be requested by emailing healthanddisability.consultation@dwp.gov.uk, calling 0800 015 3110 or request via post Health and Disability Green Paper, Caxton House 
6-12 Tothill Street, London, SW1H 9NA.

The Green paper is available online here; hard copy of full publication; hard copy of easy read publication; hard copy in Welsh; braille; 20pt version and audio. 

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