Earlier this week, on Monday October 31 to be exact. the UK government published its Work, Health and Disability Green Paper. Yes, believe it or not the government chose to publish it on Halloween. Hopefully that is not an omen of things to come.
A Green Papers, popularly known as a discussion paper, is designed to stimulate debate on government proposals before it decides on a course of action.
Publishing the paper, Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green said he wanted “targeted and personalised support” for people with chronic conditions while they look for work.
The green paper shows that the government plans to introduce a new Personal Support Package for people with health conditions who are out of work. This, supposedly, is to ensure that those concerned receive tailored health and employment support from work coaches and community partners with expertise in disability.
Another government plan is to reform the work capability assessments process for people claiming Employment Support Allowance and Universal credit. This scheme is so flawed that tinkering around the edges just won’t be enough, it needs to go, now.
One positive move is a plan to separate assessments for financial support from employment support. If that happens, which I doubt, it should be possible for people who may be able to work with the right support to access the help they need without affecting the financial support they receive. Yeah right!
Both the MS Society and the MS Trust gave guarded welcomes to the green paper.
MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “Since its inception the Work Capability Assessment has failed to recognise the fluctuating nature of conditions like MS and the debilitating impact of their more ‘hidden’ symptoms. We welcome the government’s plans to review this assessment and to improve the support available to people who may be able to work.
“We are keen to help create a system that makes more sense. However, it must be recognised that many people with long-term progressive conditions will simply be too unwell to work and no amount of extra employment support will change that.”
She added: “We’ve been calling on the government to make sure the welfare system makes sense for those who rely on it. As part of our MS: Enough campaign, we’ll be reviewing the government’s proposals and what they mean for people with MS.”
MS Trust policy officer Amanda Croft said: “The right work is a big driver of overall health and wellbeing, but we know that unemployment rates are much higher among people with MS than the general population. The MS Trust welcomes this recognition from the government that people with long-term conditions are still a valuable asset to the workforce, and that flexibly tailored support can help people with conditions like MS to achieve their employment goals.
“The unpredictable nature of MS symptoms is a particular challenge for individuals with MS and employers. Work capability assessments have historically been poorly designed for a fluctuating condition like MS. We urge the government to take the opportunity offered by their proposed review of the assessment process to ensure that the fluctuating and hidden symptoms of MS and their impact are properly taken into account.
“It is imperative that better employment support is combined with a fair and compassionate welfare system that offers support and security to those whose condition makes it impossible for them to work.”