Do welfare benefits propel or prevent employment?

Do welfare benefits propel or prevent employment?

Millions more people are now claiming welfare benefits, and it’s probably fair to say that many believed it would never happen to them. So this is probably a good time to start a narrative around whether welfare benefits help or hinder employability.

Like me you’ve probably found it’s not unusual for the two issues of welfare benefits and unemployment to be couched as cause and effect; the implication that benefits ‘prop up’ people’s lives and diminish their motivation to find work. I honestly think this association has now become a lazy stereotype and we need to work together to dispel the myth. Why? Because while it’s out there, perception or otherwise, it carries a lot of weight, and that impacts heavily, not only on the by-standers who have a third party perspective, but also on those who are the main actors of the myth – the people who have been impacted through their self-esteem, and with a belief, perhaps, that they’ll never be taken seriously enough to get a job, because they’re on benefits.

It would be naïve to evade the reality that some people who are capable of working are satisfied not to, and that surviving on welfare benefits might be an option they have chosen (or that has chosen them). It’s also a truth that even in those minority of cases if we dig beyond the surface we can probably also find multiple reasons not to cast blame. But regardless, there’s no doubt we can do a lot better, recognising this connection between welfare benefits and employability as an over-simplification of what is surely one of the most complex and serious challenges for society, and one that’s been getting in the way of social justice for decades.

Unemployment of course is a complicated and multi-dimensional subject – for the unemployed themselves and for the support system at both a micro and a macro level. An important element of this support system is geared to managing welfare benefits claims but this has proven not always to be effective. Despite assumptions to the contrary, benefits are frequently under-claimed (in the millions) because the system is dogged with misinterpretation and/or misunderstanding.

For some people, benefits can hinder the prospect of employability (we explore this below, and the lazy stereotype doesn’t feature …) but more often than not this is a symptom of circumstance rather than an actual desire to be on benefits instead of earning a living. In fact there are many examples of welfare benefits making a positive contribution towards employability.

Welfare benefits actually help people to be employed

 To properly consider how benefits enable people to progress from unemployment to employment we need to evaluate how the welfare state enables millions people to actually be in work already. According to DWP data from July 2020 over 5.5m people were claiming Universal Credit, and about a third of those were reported to already have a job.

 Source: DWP

 The welfare benefits that are enabling employment for millions of people are as diverse as people’s life situations.

The system is designed – in principle – to be accessible for all, geared to fulfilling people’s potential employability on an individual level, rather than stifling it.

Universal Credit, for example, is a means-tested benefit which is geared to supporting low income families, whether they are in work or not. The childcare element of Universal Credit can pay up to 85% of childcare costs if household income is below a minimum threshold, making a huge difference to working families, and ensuring that they are not disincentivised to work through the cost of childcare provision. It would be helpful if families that are concerned about losing childcare benefits by progressing into employment were aware that this help is available, because it’s highly likely that their starting assumption is that it isn’t. The Carers element  of Universal Credit makes work accessible for those who are undertaking caring responsibilities for 35 or more hours a week; this can support someone to continue to work at least part-time, supplementing their wage to make room to look after a disabled family member, for example, and can remove barriers for many working and single parent families.  Helping families to recognise that moving into a caring role does not preclude them from working, and that working part-time can make them better off than leaving employment altogether, is key to avoiding working adults leaving their job altogether when they’re facing these challenges. There’s no doubt that welfare benefits can enable employment for people in this position.

Benefits for working adults also include non means-tested benefits such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and government schemes that include Access to Work, both geared to removing personal barriers which can affect employability. At a practical level, this can include anything from access to aids such as a disabled person’s railcard, bus pass, the Motability car scheme, or a blue badge – all significant in improving people’s ability to travel to work. Access to Work enables employers to access special equipment, adaptations or support worker services to help them in the workplace as well as with getting to and from work.

Like Universal Credit and PIP, key to the success of these welfare benefits in enabling employability is the knowledge and support of the wider system – including employers and health professionals. If people become aware that these benefits are available to them as early as possible, and they can be supported to access them, as easily as possible, jobs can be saved through benefits. With the right benefits in place unemployed people will more readily access and retain jobs, avoiding them being unfairly disadvantaged by their need to tackle life challenges while they are working.

The benefits system and the push for employment

It is difficult to imagine how anyone living in crisis, not even sure whether they will soon have a roof over their head, unable to feed their family and coping with domestic chaos, could possibly be motivated and sufficiently confident to look for employment. Yes, a job would lead to a better income that in turn can help to turn around a challenging family situation, but that journey can be long and complex. Welfare benefits, if accessed effectively, can provide for basic needs during these times of crisis, and keep families together and safe.

Our primary challenge, then, is to ensure that once a foundation of security is established, this is quickly converted into a platform for progression, avoiding it transforming into a barrier to employment or a crutch.

Like it or loath it in practice, but the principles of Universal Credit when it was announced by the Conservative party 10 years ago were hard to argue with, cast as fairer for claimants and taxpayers, and designed to avoid the ‘cliff edge’ that was said to ‘trap’ people in unemployment when benefits ended as work started. Although the UC system has been criticised in practice (much of this criticism, in my view, being fair), many have gained employment as a result of the ‘extra push’ it has given. For people who have been assessed as needing to search for employment, Universal Credit payments are made in return for evidence of active job search activities. This can be anything from training, volunteering, or submitting job applications. Evidence of this activity being absent results in sanctions – reduced benefits payments – which have been proven, for some, to focus the mind on looking for work.

The welfare benefits system – including the broader employability support system – has the capability of giving people the ‘third party’ push they need to spur their confidence and help them to actively seek employment. This can be in the form of people pressure, or through the nature of the systems and processes in place, but to be effective it also needs to be person-centred. The support system surrounding welfare benefits that has been set up by DWP included the introduction of Job Centre work coaches. These coaches are intended to build relationships with benefits claimants, and to provide them tangible support to become more active in the job market.

On the ground, the level of service offered is inconsistent, and not everyone is able to recognise the benefit of this support or understand how take best advantage of it. It is therefore important that other players in the support system take an active role in brokering these relationships, ensuring that the claimant recognises the purpose of the work coach’s role in helping them to move forward but also, pragmatically, ensuring that the benefit claimant is clear about what they should expect, so they get all of the support that’s available to them; people need to be educated to expect regular access to relevant training and development, support with CVs and applications, and also to receive practical help with access to grants for travel to interviews and clothing to improve the likelihood of a successful outcome on the day (this can relate to increased confidence as much as making a good first impression to a prospective employer). This is a two-way street.

This role is being played by employability professionals and independent agencies such as Citizens Advice, however this interaction often comes at the point of crisis. More can be done at the outset to avert crisis, and perhaps in some cases it’s not ideal for the paymaster to own this responsibility.

So can welfare benefits actually hinder employability?

We can’t pretend that welfare benefits is the silver bullet that will fix unemployment, but there’s no question that attitudes to benefits need to change. The lazy stereotype image isn’t owned exclusively by the media. People who are claiming benefits feel the stigma. Some worry about whether they should make a claim and decide not to although they will suffer a detriment as a result, ‘just in case’. When applying for jobs, concerns about recruiters discriminating against them because they claim benefits is a real barrier to making the effort to apply in the first place.

People who have been in the position of claiming welfare benefits for long periods can be prone to believing they have become unemployable.

The bias of employers – unconscious or otherwise – can serve to further entrench these barriers – employing someone who is already in employment feels a lot easier and lower risk than employing someone who is long-term unemployed, does it not.

Helping employers to engage unemployed applicants in volunteer programmes to provide work experience, or work trials before a full commitment to a job is made, would make a huge difference, supporting people who feel ‘trapped’ in the benefits system to break down these barriers, and better equipping the employer and the prospective employee to remove prejudices associated with welfare benefits as a hinderance to employability.

If you would like to talk about how you could start breaking down these barriers in your organisation please get in touch; if we can’t help ourselves we’re pretty sure we’ll know someone who can.

A call to action – let’s change attitudes

So, do welfare benefits propel or prevent employment? I usually resist the temptation to talk about culture as it’s a pretty intangible concept in real terms and we can almost exonerate ourselves of responsibility for pretty much anything by blaming culture. But in real terms our attitudes shape the culture that exists around welfare benefits and unemployment, so our call to action today is for us to work together to help those who have found themselves claiming benefits for whatever reason to know that this offers a safe platform for progression back into employment, that the stigma that may have been attached to welfare benefits in the past no longer exists, and that benefits actually enable millions of people to work.

 

Jayne Graham MBE (Director) and Adam Matthews (Social Welfare Instructor) 

PIP Claims and how to get the basics right

PIP Claims and how to get the basics right

PIP Claims and how to get the basics right

Welfare benefits claims are far from easy to navigate and people often have complex needs which can prove to be barriers to their benefit applications. The stakes are heightened with Personal Independence Payment claims, and the complexity of the application process can stand in the way of a successful claim for people who are really in need of the support.

That’s why, through our training, we share acute front-end experience of how to successfully support people through the claims process for PIP. But to get you started, our Social Welfare Instructor Adam has prepared some pointers that will make sure you get the basics right.  

What is PIP?

Personal Independence Payment (known as PIP), is a benefit designed to help people with the additional costs involved in having a long term health condition or being disabled and isn’t means tested. That means that anyone can apply for PIP, regardless of their income or savings. The benefit replaced Disability Living Allowance in the UK. 

There are eligibility criteria that need to be fulfilled before claiming for PIP, including age and how the condition affects the potential claimant, so check these before getting started. You can find out more here https://www.gov.uk/pip

Collect medical evidence before starting the claim

Once you get started with a PIP claim the process is time limited, so it’s a really good idea to encourage your client to invest some time in collecting as much medical evidence as possible to support the application.

Prospective claimants should contact their GP and any medical professionals that have been working with them in the last 12 months and let them know they are applying for PIP. You will find that most professionals are really empathetic and will write a supporting letter to accompany a claim.

Remember PIP is designed to respond to how someone’s condition affects them, so the more medical evidence they get the better.

Help with form filling

The PIP application form is 33 pages long and can be quite daunting, so it’s always a good idea for a claimant to get help from someone with experience of successfully completing PIP forms.

After your client has made their initial claim over the phone with the DWP, a PIP form should be sent out within 14 days, then they will have a month to fill in the form (if they need longer, for example because they need help to fill in the form, if they let the DWP know in good time they may be granted an extension).

Stick to the descriptors

We can’t stress enough how important it is for a claimant to stick to the descriptors, and cross reference their mobility and daily living needs to score as many legitimate points as possible. In our Get to Grips with PIP training we really get into the detail of each of the twelve descriptors but you can also get a basic understanding of each of the PIP descriptors in this short video series.

Be prepared for the assessment

The assessment is an important part of the claims process so preparation is key. It is well worth seeing if a home visit is feasible if the claimant is not well enough to attend an external venue (they may need medical evidence to prove this). Whether it’s at home or at an assessment centre, it is always worth the claimant being accompanied to the assessment for support.

It’s also a really good idea for the claimant to keep a diary of how their condition affects them for a few weeks before the assessment date, so they can properly explain this to the assessor, to make sure they don’t forget anything if they feel a bit nervous. 

Don’t give up

If the PIP claim is unsuccessful first time round don’t give up.  In the event of a successful claim it’s definitely best to get help from organisations such as Citizens Advice to handle a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ and appeal if it gets to this stage. It may also be worth getting further medical evidence to back up the claim.

The Tribunals Service statistics show that claimants are winning PIP appeals at the highest rate ever recorded. Overall, an extraordinary 73% of social security appeals are successful, with the claimant getting a better award than they originally received from the DWP. Our parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead recently reported a 93% success rate when it comes to appeals.

 

If you would like to learn more about PIP claims check out our series of short videos here, and if you’d like to learn more about how to help your own clients to improve their chances of a making a successful PIP claim please get in touch today to talk through how we can help.

 

Survival of the fittest? Disability benefits in practice

Survival of the fittest? Disability benefits in practice

Survival of the fittest? Disability benefits in practice.

Personal Independence Payments were introduced back in April 2013 as a key element of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 alongside other benefit changes including the introduction of the controversial Universal Credit. Also known as ‘PIP’, the benefit replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for people aged between 16 and 65 or pensionable age because, according to the Government at the time, ‘there was confusion about the purpose of DLA, it was complex to claim and there was no systematic way of checking that awards remain correct’.

By January 2020 the DWP reported that just over 2.5m people had been awarded PIP, almost 50% of claims made to that point.

Supporting the effect, not the cause

When it was being introduced as an antidote to the prevailing confusion associated with legacy disability benefits, understandably Disability focused charities supported the change. They expressed satisfaction that PIP was being described as “help towards some of the extra costs because of a long-term ill-health condition or disability. It’s based on how a person’s condition affects them, not the condition they have. It’s designed to be a more sustainable benefit and make sure support continues to reach those who face the greatest challenges to taking part in everyday life”. So essentially it would support the effect, not the cause of the disability, which in itself was a positive step forward.

So far so good.

So, one of the founding principles that were set out for the assessment of PIP claims was that claimants wouldn’t need a diagnosis (stands to reason if the benefit was geared to supporting the effect, not the cause). The application process would also be fairer as assessors in the claimant journey would really get to grips with the individual needs of the claimant, looking beyond the disability itself and determining the effect it was having on a person’s life – their daily living needs and mobility needs.

Again, all good. In theory.

Front-line Social Welfare workers were initially positive about the potential for PIP to make a real difference, particularly in their knowledge that often physical and mental health conditions go hand in hand, something that wasn’t embedded in the benefit’s earlier manifestation as DLA. A shift away from listing medications and treatments to a holistic understanding of a person’s current life circumstances would make a huge difference to being able to support people living with a disability in a more effective and person-centred way; the biggest indicator of this being that it wasn’t means tested – whether you worked or not would no longer be relevant to the assessment.

So how does the theory play out in practice?

The PIP claims process is challenging. Here are 5 reasons why we think that’s the case:

1. Handling a PIP claim requires a high level of responsiveness (robust deadlines for making claims, return of form, providing evidence) which doesn’t necessarily come easy to people at the best of times, but if you put yourself in the shoes of someone facing significant life challenges, this can be a step too far.

2. Stage two of the process requires the completion of a 33 page form which is sent to the claimant’s home address. That takes some mettle to tackle. Let’s imagine you have experienced a life changing illness and you are claiming PIP to help you to adjust. 33 pages. Not surprisingly people delay (beyond the deadline) or don’t bother at all.

3. It’s not just the length of the form that’s daunting. It’s also the information claimants need to provide in the form about how their condition affects them. It has to be said that the principle of evaluating the effect not the cause is embedded into the assessment, however if you are living with a disability and have necessarily made adjustments to do so, it’s extremely difficult to be able to articulate – over 33 pages – what that really means in practice. It is not unreasonable to need to assess these factors, but the reality is that to do it properly (in context of the complex PIP descriptors set out as the benchmark for determining the effect of a disability, the claimant really needs to be supported by an experienced third party to have any chance of presenting a true picture.

4. Albeit the principles of effect, not cause, are a central theme, there is no question that this needs to be in the form of medical evidence – the claimant’s own view of the world doesn’t hold much weight when it comes to the impact the disability is having on their life. Getting this evidence (within the deadlines) can be challenging in itself.

5. The final stage of the PIP claims process is an assessment, usually at an assessment centre (although this can be adjusted in advance if this is going to be a trauma for the person involved). The assessor may not specialise in their particular disability, and although the assessments are ‘person-centred’, in that they are about the person, they are also process driven, so attending in isolation is not the best option. Ensuring that the claimant stays calm, thinks through their responses and doesn’t forget essential information doesn’t come easy depending on the disability being faced, so being accompanied really is highly recommended to avoid a legitimate claim being passed over because of their ‘performance on the day’.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain produced a report about its members experiences of the test in September 2015. 1,780 participated. 42% of those who had a face-to-face assessment said the hidden symptoms of the condition had not been taken into account. More than a third said face-to-face assessments had caused their condition to relapse or deteriorate.

Points mean … PIP

So I think we can acknowledge that the PIP assessment process is a long way from a blunt instrument – it’s a multi-faceted assessment that’s then evaluated by a DWP case manager who awards points based on the evidence provided. Points determine whether a claimant receives a benefit, and whether the award is standard or enhanced.

It feels a bit like when you know a PR company has written an application for a company that wins first place in a competition – the rest had no hope because they didn’t have the right person on side articulating why they should win the prize. It’s a shameful reality that this is how PIP assessments work. We would never ever support someone claiming PIP if they didn’t genuinely qualify for the benefit – that’s just plain dishonest. However if the system is geared up to support the survival of the fittest we have to intervene.

Our call to Action

  • People need to be actively, overtly offered support before they even make their first call to DWP;
  • The system needs to be fit to support PIP claimants at every stage, and the people providing the support need to genuinely understand how to empower claimants to convey the information that will support their claim;
  • We need to be ready to support with appeals (over 75% are reported to be successful which tells a tale in itself), and able to do better than taking sometimes more than a year to get what people are rightfully entitled to in a humane social welfare system.

As it stands the PIP claims process does seem to be geared to the survival of the fittest, and the harsh reality is that some claimants simply don’t survive.

Jayne Graham MBE (Director) and Adam Matthews (Social Welfare Instructor)

If you would like to learn more about PIP claims check out our series of short videos here, and if you’d like to learn more about how to help your own clients to improve their chances of a making a successful PIP claim please get in touch today.

Durham business funds community social welfare training

Durham business funds community social welfare training

A family-owned funeral service that has served the local community for almost 50 years throughout East Durham is the latest business to ‘pay it forward’ to sponsor the Durham community sector to access vital social welfare training in partnership with Society Matters.

The East Durham Funeral Service has sponsored a Charity Discount Scheme that makes training more accessible to local charities and volunteers working on the front line in community organisations that could not afford the social welfare training otherwise. Through the scheme up to 100% discount can be offered, with the cost supplemented through the sponsorship which is also matched pound for pound by Society Matters. With their £500 donation this means Society Matters can offer at least 6 people places on Universal Credit or Personal Independence Payments (PIP) training courses, so they can have the confidence and knowledge they need to help their clients to navigate the complexities of the welfare benefits system.

Managing Director of East Durham Funeral Service Philip Maddison was keen to find new ways to support local people, and recognised that Paying It Forward with Society Matters was a useful way to contribute:

“When we heard about the Society Matters Charity Discount Fund, and the invaluable support that Society Matters provides to front line services, we were delighted to help. We recognise how important the services are to really improve the quality of people’s lives within our local area at a time where it has never been needed more due to the pandemic.

As a family run funeral service, proudly serving our local communities for almost 50 years, it is our ethos to support and guide families through their darkest hour and beyond. We are extremely proud to be able to share Society Matters vision of ‘Make Your Mark’ and hope to continue to back such invaluable services now and in the future.”

Lee Booth Trading Manager of Society Matters, who launched the fund earlier in the Summer said “We are over the moon with East Durham Funeral Service sponsorship of our social welfare training – this will make a massive difference to local charities and volunteers. As a social enterprise we have a clear social purpose, and the support of local businesses like the East Durham Funeral Service shows that we’re not on our own – by working together we can really make our mark”.

Lee and Society Matters cic Social Welfare Instructor Adam Matthews have received fantastic feedback from hundreds of people who have already received the training, which is now exclusively delivered through in an online classroom environment to ensure it has continued to add value despite the pandemic.

If you are involved in a local charity or community organisation that would benefit from receiving training in Universal Credit or Personal Independence Payments, but you can’t afford it, please get in touch to see if you can access help through the Pay it Forward Charity Discount Fund.

Click here to get in touch

We’re now Corporate Affiliate Partners of the Institute of Employability Professionals

We’re now Corporate Affiliate Partners of the Institute of Employability Professionals

Our aim is to make our mark on society by improving the social welfare support system – so the people who need help – and have been brave enough to reach out for it – get the right support first time round.

It’s hard to ask for help

It’s hard to ask for help at the best of times isn’t it – without feeling like a failure – and it can also be hard to know who to ask, so kudos to those who are brave enough to do it, but when they have made that first brave step, imagine if the target of their solace doesn’t have the answer, or suggests they talk to someone else instead (it was hard enough the first time) or, worse still, that they unwittingly give the wrong answer (although from our experience people are more likely to know when they don’t know, so they pass them on – the cycle continues).

The thing is, most social welfare problems can be solved more easily, and with a better, longer term resolution, if they’re resolved early. When the problem has festered it more often that not deepens in its complexity, broadens in its reach, and very quickly transforms into a vicious circle that manifests itself in crisis. Reaching out for help and not getting the right answer first time leads to personal challenges spiralling out of control, at some considerable speed.

Building the virtuous circle through employability support

Reaching out to offer the right support at the right time can serve to avert the risk of a vicious circle, and that can sometimes even start to build into a virtuous circle, enabling people to quickly resolve issues and start to build their lives. But as we stand today the social welfare support system has a long way to go before we can be confident that this will happen consistently – and even in any minor proportion. We can, however, change this. By recognising that we are part of the system – all of us, in one way or another, we can do our bit to make it work better. To encourage people to come forward sooner, and to make sure that their chosen source of help can deliver.

So what has this got to do with employability support?

A lot.

When people are out of work they are vulnerable in innumerable ways. If we can bolster the significant specialist knowledge that already exists in the employability sector with knowledge of social welfare support we can only serve to improve outcomes for the individual, for employability professionals and for the system. In practice this means bringing old knowledge up to date and, in some cases, reversing misinterpretation of the ‘facts’. By doing so we can build the confidence and the capability of the system so people get the right help, sooner, so they can move on to more positive times.

Welfare benefits is both an enabler and a barrier to employment. Many people claim benefits while they are working, and without them they wouldn’t be able to work. Benefits can also cause people to be further away from employment, most markedly because of fear that they will be worse off in work than while they are being supported by the state. By helping employability professionals to really understand welfare benefits – Universal Credit, PIP and legacy benefits – we can ensure that barriers to employment associated with welfare benefits are broken down at an earlier stage; with more welfare benefits knowledge existing ‘in the system’, we can more effectively collectively support vulnerable people to respond to, and avert crisis, and build the life stability they need for themselves and their families through access to employment.

That’s why we’re excited about our new-found affilation with the Institute of Employability Professionals. It just makes sense for us to work arm in arm, to make the system work, to work for everyone, to power the changes we need to be an inclusive and equal society.

Jayne Graham, Executive Director