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UK Government’s proposed welfare changes are the answer to the wrong question

The Prime Minister has declared that he wants to ‘put work at the heart of welfare’, announcing a package of new measures.

But we are disappointed to hear that the proposed welfare reforms ignore what is really needed: targeted employment support for blind and partially sighted people and a fairer benefits system so that people can afford the essentials.

The proposed changes risk alarming many blind and partially sighted people, at a time where many are already under financial hardship.

What was announced by the Prime Minister?

The proposed reforms include:

  • Greater expectations on people to find work
  • Plans to reduce the number of people being signed off sick from work
  • Plans to tighten the reach of disability benefits

A review of the disability benefit system was announced. This is said “to ensure it’s more accurately targeted at those who need it most.”

A consultation will be opened soon on Personal Independence Payment (PIP), a benefit to help cover the extra costs of living with a disability or ill health. The consultation will explore changes to the eligibility criteria, assessment process and types of support that can be offered.

It’s important to remember the proposals to reform disability benefits are just plans, so there won’t be any immediate changes.

A review of the process for people signed off sick for work was also announced. Rather than ‘fit notes’ being issued by GPs and other health care professionals as currently happens, the UK Government has proposed new “work and health advisors” who would be “non-clinical professionals” would carry out “robust and in-depth work and health conversations with patients.”

It was also announced that legislation will be brought forward in the next parliament to impose tougher sanctions on people on benefits who don’t meet the conditions set by their work coach.

To read more about these proposals, go to the government's website.

Our response

Blind and partially sighted people make an incredibly valuable contribution to society, but work isn’t always possible. Many blind and partially sighted people are keen to work but find themselves coming up against persistent obstacles. If the Government is serious about creating job opportunities for disabled people, it needs to invest properly in high quality, tailored employment support while tackling low levels of understanding among employers.

Too often employers have inaccessible recruitment practices and too little understanding of sight loss. Recent polling by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Visual Impairment found that a shocking 25 per cent of businesses said they would not be willing to make workplace adaptations and adjustments to employ a blind or partially sighted person, apparently unaware of their legal obligations under the Equality Act.

Reacting to the announcements, Vivienne Francis, RNIB’s Chief Social Change Officer, said:

“This package of changes ignores the need to tackle NHS waiting lists, and deliver a fairer benefit system so people with sight loss can always afford the essentials and live with dignity. The UK Government should focus on educating employers, to make sure their practices and workplaces are inclusive and accessible for blind and partially sighted people, rather than using rhetoric which too often appears to put the blame on disabled people for being out of work.

“What’s needed are much more stringent standards for employers to be part of the government’s Disability Confident scheme, and for the UK Government to encourage employers to align their working practices to the RNIB Visibly Better Employer quality standard.

“To add to the inequity, we’re still waiting for the Department for Work and Pensions to fix its Access to Work scheme which can provide essential equipment and support to carry out a job. Fixing Access to Work is critical for getting more blind and partially sighted people into long term employment, and if the Prime Minister wants more disabled people to find work, it should be his priority too.

“We know that some blind and partially sighted people are being told to expect a three month wait to get the support that they are entitled to. This is totally unacceptable.”

Next steps

We will be scrutinising these proposals carefully, including the consultation on PIP when published, to understand what they mean for blind and partially sighted people.

In our feedback to the UK Government, we will be emphasising the need for targeted employment support and a fairer benefit system so people can always afford the essentials and manage the extra costs that come with sight loss.