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Better support for disabled people in work: will the government’s new plans deliver? 

Spring Budget 2023,
Transforming Support White Paper

Last Wednesday (15 March) saw both the Chancellor’s budget statement and the release of the Government’s Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper’. 

The Government’s focus , including in the White Paper, was very much on getting ‘back to work’. This meant getting more people into high quality jobs, especially those who are not currently working.  

There was a welcome acknowledgement here that one of the best ways to enable this to happen is tackling the barriers many disabled people face to entering the workforce. Accordingly, Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Papersets out the Government’s plan to support more disabled people into good quality work, framing it as an economic imperative. 

The question, then, is how to make this happen. The White Paper proposes a three-pronged approach, consisting of:  

  • Improving in-work support for people with disabilities and health conditions 
  • Ensuring people can access the right support at the right time, and improving experiences of the benefits system 
  • Reforming the benefits system so it focuses on what people ‘can’ do as opposed to what they ‘cannot’. 

Some bold steps – but plans could go further 

Certainly, the White Paper took some significant steps, especially in terms of reforming benefits. A particularly welcome proposal is overhauling the benefits system so disabled people retain more of their benefits while starting work. Currently, starting work for people on disability benefits can lead to these being too drastically reduced to make work financially viable, especially if moving into part-time work. So the White Paper moves us in the right direction in terms of removing this barrier to work for disabled people.  

The focus on occupational health is also welcome. We know this can be a very valuable tool in getting people the support they need to flourish at, and stay in, work. 

The question is how these interventions fit in to the larger plan to better support disabled people in work, and this is where we need to see more detail. Occupational health support, for example, needs to be provided in collaboration between employees and employers to work effectively. Similarly, occupational health needs to be just one of many workplace health interventions open to employees, who need to be able to access different kinds of support at different times. Access to Work is a good example of one of these services, and one which we had hoped to see much more attention on in the White Paper. Access to Work is ground-breaking in concept and can be a vital intervention, enabling many disabled people to work, but needs more resources to meet high levels of demand, improve response times, reduce bureaucracy and be embedded into other support services.  

There’s also the issue of support outside workplaces to consider. Many people cannot work – get work or stay in work – without the right support from health services. Long waiting lists, fragmented support, and a persistent backlog of medical procedures mean many employees are off sick while waiting for appropriate care. So the next step following the White Paper needs to be finding a way of joining up work and health settings. Healthcare support needs to be better geared to those who experience a life-changing illness or acquire a disability while working. It also needs to support those in work, and also to ensure people who are out of work due to a condition can safely phase back into employment with the right support when they want to do so.  

In summary, then, it’s as we often say – we’ve seen some great steps but there is much more to be done. But it’s great to see the contribution, talent and potential of disabled people recognised in discussions about employment-driven growth, and many steps outlined in the White Paper are both welcome and promising. The true test of success will be in how the government implements those steps. With that in mind, we’ll continue to engage with Government and seek to shape the fine details of delivery to provide the best possible outcomes for disabled people. ‘More to be done’ is a good mantra to live by when it comes to changing the employment landscape for the better, and the detail is often where a lot of that work lies. 

Spring Budget 2023,
Transforming Support White Paper

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