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Response to ‘Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper’

Monday 17 April 2023

Response to ‘Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper’

Last month the Department for Work and Pensions published the Health and Disability White Paper and the British Dyslexia Association has taken a look to see how it supports individuals with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties and co-occurring differences.

Much like the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan which we reported on last month the stated aims and intentions are commendable. We very much welcome the commitment to ‘close the disability employment gap’ and ‘to empower and support disabled people’. Similarly, the change of emphasis from what people can’t do to what they can reflects the welcome use of inclusive language which we increasingly see across departmental publications.

However, looking into the detailed recommendation and commitments, we find the following areas of concern.

Access to Work

We welcome the changes to Access to Work which will give disabled contractors and freelancers greater flexibility to take up short term contracts, by removing the need for them to reapply for Access to Work every time they begin a new period of work.

However, we would like to see this option available for all applicants where the person’s needs remain the same. This would provide assurance for employers that support is already in place, remove the need for repeated holistic assessments and reduce the time taken to implement support for new employees.

Specialist support

The White Paper repeatedly refers to providing ‘the right support’ and this seems to rely heavily on stepping up support from staff in job centres. We are concerned that there is no standard for the training and information that these staff receive and therefore disabled jobseekers may not get access to the specialist support they need. We agree with the charity Sense which calls for DWP to work with disabled people to co-produce training for Work Coaches and Disability Employment Advisors

Adjustment Passport

The White Paper also describes Adjustment Passport trials. Adjustment Passports aim to help individuals as they transition from one employer to another, ensuring that information about an individual’s support needs can be shared in a timely and efficient manner and encouraging ‘confident conversations’.

We would like to see evidence that Adjustment Passports do indeed ‘remove barriers to employment’ for jobseekers with special educational needs and do not simply entrench stigma. Subject to reassurances about this, we would like to see trials extended so that all school-leavers with special educational needs or disabilities aged 16+ could have an Adjustment Passport to take as they move from school to college or university or begin employment.

Our charity’s President, Lord Addington, will be asking the Government about this in the House of Lords this month.

Assistive technology

We note with disappointment the absence of specific reference to the role of assistive technologies (AT) in supporting jobseekers with disabilities: whether relating to training that job centres could provide, or that their staff would need, or as a call to employers to learn more about how AT can support all of their employees.

AT can be gamechanging for individuals with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties and as the 21st century is set to see an increase in health and disability needs, we would hope to see far greater recognition of the value of innovative technology which is not just widely available but also often easily affordable for employers.

Changing workplace attitudes

One of the biggest barriers for disabled jobseekers can be lack of information and awareness from employers who may have a preconceived idea that employing someone with specific support needs will be complex or expensive.

So we welcome the development of the new online tool for employers, ‘Support with employee health and disability’ which is currently available in a test version. It is easy to use, gives clear information and signposts additional resources.

Given, however, that is has reportedly cost £6.4 million we would like the Government to ensure that employers know it’s there, can find it and so can use it. We would welcome more information about how employers will be encouraged to use this tool.

Flexible working

Finally, we know that individuals with disabilities often need to have a flexible way of working to support their needs. This may include working from home or working hours in chunks rather than whole days. We know that individuals with specific learning needs may find this sort of flexibility helpful as sometimes they may find it hard to focus in environments with too much stimulation or tire quickly.

The White Paper fails to incentivise businesses to increase flexible working adjustments that can support disabled jobseekers accessing employment. Given that fewer than a third of jobs include ‘flex options’, it is disappointing that the Government is not doing more to encourage employees to offer this more widely. Flexible working options will enable employers to benefit from more commitment and ultimately more productivity out of their workforce so makes good business sense for everyone.

The British Dyslexia Association provides the Secretariat for the APPG on Dyslexia and Other Specific Learning Difficulties. The next meeting will be held on 15th May 2023 – to attend or find out more visit our webpage here.