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.

Gateshead businesses support local army veterans’ charity to deepen their impact

Gateshead businesses support local army veterans’ charity to deepen their impact

Gateshead businesses support local army veterans’ charity to deepen their impact

Gateshead company Geek Talent has become the first to donate to a new ‘Pay it Forward’ Charity Discount Fund Scheme recently launched by Gateshead social enterprise Society Matters cic.

The Charity Discount Fund was introduced in response to Covid19 and the increased demand on local charities to help people to navigate the complexities of the benefits system. Donations into the scheme are matched by Society Matters, so specialist training in welfare benefits such as Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments can be accessed by community organisations that simply couldn’t afford it otherwise.

Geek Talent, a Gateshead company that has developed unique software that supports people to improve their chances of employment, commented that they are “delighted to support Society Matters with funding to enable this valuable training at such a critical time. It’s entirely aligned with our own ambitions to make a huge difference to society through helping people out of poverty so they and their families can have a better life”.

The team at Society Matters recognises that businesses often want to support their local community and voluntary sector but often struggle to know how best to help. By donating to the Charity Discount Fund they can add tangible value, helping charity staff and volunteers to be better equipped to deal with the pressure on their services.

Jayne Graham MBE, Executive Director of Society Matters cic, explained “much of the knowledge about welfare benefits in the support system is out of date, leaving staff and volunteers finding it difficult to give the depth of help people need. Training is so critical for the sector, but due to lack of funding it’s simply out of most organisations’ reach. The Charity Discount Fund puts that right, providing a direct route to helping many vulnerable people get the support they need swiftly and more efficiently”.

Through a £500 donation, matched by Society Matters cic, Geek Talent have directly supported staff and volunteers from the military veteran’s charity Walking with the Wounded to build their social welfare knowledge and undergo Society Matter’s vital ‘Get to Grips with Personal Independence Payment’ training.

Members of the Walking with the Wounded team commented that the training means they can now help veterans ‘with more confidence’ and highly recommended the social welfare training, alongside hundreds of others who have now benefited from what Society Matters cic has to offer. Feedback from Walking with the Wounded staff can be found here.

Trading Manager of Society Matters Lee Booth, whose idea it was to launch the fund, praised Geek Talent for their donation saying “We are extremely grateful to Geek Talent for their donation to our Pay it Forward fund and we can already see the positive impact this has had on the staff at Walking with the Wounded. We would encourage any business or member of the public who want aren’t sure how to help charities in the wake of the pandemic to make a donation, no matter how small, and we’ll match it pound for pound.”

If your business would like to make a huge difference in the local community and make a contribution to the ‘Pay it Forward’ Charity Discount Fund please get in touch today.

New Video Help Series | Personal Independence Payments (PIP)

Personal Independence Payments (known also as PIP) are geared to doing exactly what it says on the tin – helping people to achieve an improved level of personal independence despite experiencing a disability.

Several of our customers who work in the welfare support sector in some shape or form, particularly those who have attended our Getting to Grips with Universal Credit course, have told us that they also struggle to understand the complexities of PIP, worrying that their clients might not get the best possible support when completing their PIP application. Evidence shows that a high proportion of people who apply for PIP actually fail in their application – indicating that this is a real concern. Many of those with failed applications ultimately do go on to successfully acquire the benefit when it is recognised that the first decision wasn’t fair, however this is often after pursuing a long appeals process which causes delay, money worries and of course a lot of stress.

In 2019 the Disability News Service reported that DWP’s own statistics show that as many as one in seven of all government decisions to reject claims for personal independence payment (PIP) is eventually overturned, a rise of 6 percentage points since 2014/15. They also suggest that this is probably the tip of the iceberg as many such decisions aren’t actually challenged.

So what can we do to help people who are entitled to PIP make a successful claim?

Society Matters cic aims to make its mark by mobilising the knowledge of the people who do know amongst those who don’t – our learning programmes draw expert knowledge from the people working at the front end of social welfare, based on the principle that the more people and organisations within the system who understand the detail the better the system can support the people who need the help.

As well as a half day workshop to really dig into the detail, we have developed some short introductory videos as an introduction to PIP and the PIP application process. This is the beginning of our Video Help Series – let us know if you need help in other areas as it’s your feedback and ideas that will help us to make sure our resources really make a difference.

Introduction to PIP