The government has published its much-anticipated White Paper setting out its proposals to help disabled people and people with health conditions to enter or re-enter the workforce. Following the joint consultation on proposals for reducing ill health-related job loss published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in 2019, Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper was published last month.
The White Paper proposes a threefold strategy to close the disability gap by reducing the number of people who are economically inactive because of a long-term health condition or disability. The three limbs of the strategy are:
- investing in employment support for disabled people and people with health conditions;
- ensuring people have access to “the right support at the right time” and have a better overall experience when applying for and receiving health and disability benefits; and
- reforming the benefits system more widely.
The proposals include a mixture of short-term actions, which can be delivered quickly, and longer-term plans that will require legislative amendments.
Investment in employment support
One of the main proposals from the White Paper is investment in the reform of the digital services available to both individuals and employers to support health and disability. The Paper announced that an online advice and information service to help employers manage health and disability at work is currently in live national testing. The service would signpost employers to more detailed guidance related to the specific circumstances on which they need support.
Additionally, employees would be offered mental health support through the Access to Work Mental Health Service which provides tailored support for up to nine months. The Service can also provide advice to employers on any recommended reasonable adjustments.
The White Paper also proposes closer co-ordination between employers and occupational health services. The suggestion is that better co-ordination would allow employers to improve access to work for employees who have health issues. A pilot scheme is being introduced to encourage the self-employed and small and medium sized businesses to purchase occupational health services by way of financial incentives and increased support.
Investment in Access to Work initiatives
The White Paper sets out government plans for investment in the Access to Work initiative which encourages and supports people with health conditions to enter the workforce.
These plans include a flexible package to assist individuals to take up hybrid working opportunities. Additionally, the White Paper tables the concept of “adjustment passports” to create a more cohesive means for candidates to inform employers about the adjustments they require. It would help to reduce the need for repeat Access to Work assessments.
Another suggestion is a new Access to Work enhanced package of increased personal support and supervision for those in need provided by the government. Alongside this, the government is considering the support that can be provided for any employers who are willing to shape vacancies to accommodate disabled candidates.
Benefit system reform
The final element of the proposed strategy to aid disabled workers is a reform of the benefits system. Suggestions made by the DWP and DHSC in the White Paper include:
- scrapping the Universal Credit limited capacity for work and work-related activity criteria to be replaced with a new health element;
- provision of a work coach for those employees who are claiming Universal Credit, to support them with increasing their hours and earnings;
- development of and consultation on a Disability Action Plan later in 2023, which will set out the practical action to be taken by the government to improve disabled people’s lives; and
- introduction of a “personalised health conditionality” approach to benefit eligibility. This would involve a new Universal Credit health element that removes the requirement to have a limited capability for work and preparing for work in order to receive additional income-related support for a disability or health condition.
The White Paper has received a mixed response since its publication. Some commentators have welcomed the proposals, saying they align with repeated calls for equality, diversity and inclusivity, while others suggest that those individuals who are not fit for work will either be left out of pocket, or otherwise unfairly forced into employment.
The DWP has confirmed that it intends to progress the proposed changes slowly so that careful consideration can be taken on how to implement the recommendations, and to give individuals “security and certainty”.
For now, while further resources and guidance are awaited, employers are encouraged to continue to manage any health or disability-related concerns in a supportive, proactive and collaborative manner. By doing so, parties are more likely to avoid issues becoming compounded and/or leading to unnecessary long-term absences, grievances and/or tribunal claims.
The number of individuals considered disabled is on the increase, and the law around disability discrimination can be complex (particularly with regard to reasonable adjustments). Please do reach out to our PRM team and we will be happy to provide further support and guidance as needed.