More IDS bollocks: getting rid of Disability Employment Advisers at jobcentres

Is this the beginning of the end of Disability Employment Advisers at jobcentres?

Last week, I went to a North London jobcentre with a disabled man who was meeting with an adviser to agree his claimant commitment – the contract which sets out the number of jobs this man will search for each week and so on. We met with the Disability Employment Adviser.

A bit of background: DEAs are onsite jobcentre officers who are trained to support disabled JSA claimants and to direct disabled people towards disability-friendly employers (assuming that such employers still exist). Meetings with DEAs can be hard to come by, presumably because DEAs are in demand and a lot of disabled people need their support. The man I was with had waited well over a month for the appointment that finally took place last week. It was a relief to get to that meeting and to begin to set up the relationship with the DEA. Disability Employment Advisers can sometimes act as a kind of buffer between disabled people and sanctions. They note if someone has learning or literacy difficulties, or other problems that make jobsearching hard. DEAs are not always perfect, but they’re better than nothing. A relationship of some kind can be helpful.

Except – there’s not going to be a relationship of any sort with this DEA, or any DEA at this jobcentre. It seems there’s not going to be a DEA there at all. It emerged that this DEA was leaving in a few weeks and that the job would not be filled. “I’m not going to be doing this job for too much longer and they’re not replacing my role,” the DEA told us. This person said that there would be no DEA at this jobcentre “as far as I am aware.” The guy I was with was a bit shocked to hear this. He’d previously signed on at at a Northeast London jobcentre where the DEA working there had probably saved him from sanctions a couple of times. That DEA understood his literacy problems and knew that he struggled with online jobsearching, because he couldn’t easily use a computer or email. Things weren’t great at that jobcentre and the DEA certainly had ups and downs, but the overall picture would have been a lot worse without that person there and generally onside.

So. No DEA. Another one of IDS’ Big Ideas, I gather. I note from a John Pring report last year that removing DEAs was some sort of weird DWP experiment to do with Universal Credit (the creation of a “Unipod” system, no less. My word. What a word – Unipod. Outstanding). In that story, the DWP said that jobcentres with no DEAs were “testing a new system where work coaches will have the flexibility to help all types of claimants, ensuring “a truly individualised service to help as many people as possible into work,” whatever that means. I’m guessing that it means f-all in reality. The DEA at last week’s meeting didn’t seem to think much of plans to disband the role. That DEA was hoping people would complain about the disappearance of DEAs and force a decision to bring them back. “They might find if [people] complain enough, which hopefully they would, they would keep them on.” I asked at a second meeting this week whether other jobcentre advisers would or could take over the DEA role, or even parts of it. “They wouldn’t have that time,” was the answer. “We DEAs have that time [to spend with disabled people].”

That’s one of the reasons I have doubts about work coaches and the “truly individualised service” that the DWP rabbited on about in John’s story. Another reason is that the truly individualised service already looks like a pile of turds, at least as far as I can see. I’m working with a woman at the moment who has learning difficulties and signs on at a Northeast London jobcentre. She was meant to meet with a work coach at the start of May, presumably so the jobcentre work coach could get cracking on her truly individualised service. Unfortunately, when she arrived, she found that her meeting with the work coach was cancelled. Nobody bothered to call to tell her the meeting was off. She only found out when she turned up for it. Another meeting was set for last Tuesday. Exactly the same thing happened. The woman arrived for her meeting with the work coach and was told it was cancelled due to a staff shortage. No further dates have been set. So much for a flexible, individualised (is that even a word?) system.

On it goes, further round the u-bend: more crud guffed out by this government on disability. I am intrigued by this theory that the best way to help disabled people into work is to get rid of the staff and services that made getting into work possible. It’s the same genius theory that the government used to inform its decision to close the Independent Living Fund – the fund that many disabled people use to pay for the personal assistants who help them get to work. It is a very peculiar argument – that you get more disabled people to work by removing help-to-work support for disabled people. I guess George Osborne will be making that argument ad infinitum in his summer budget. Or something.

Update today: the DWP responded to my query about this no-DEA “initiative” with this:

“Jobseekers now have access to dedicated Work Coaches, who are trained to provide tailored support specific to their individual needs.”

This tells us five-eighths of eff-all, so I’ve sent the DWP an FOI asking for details of this training – who provides it, how long it lasts, subjects covered, certification received and length of appointment that disabled people can expect when signing on. The response should be interesting. The DEA in this story said that advisers had neither the time nor the expertise to deal with disabled claimants, so can’t wait to hear the official line. It will also be interesting to see how the claimants I attended jobcentre meetings with experience this brilliant new world for real.

9 thoughts on “More IDS bollocks: getting rid of Disability Employment Advisers at jobcentres

  1. Ian Duncan Smith is forcing the Sick and Disabled off Benefits but taking any help they need from them.Surely this shows what sort of government the tory party are and yet who will stand up for these people being

  2. That is a major point. Labour sure won’t rush in. That’s an even bigger problem than it was when the last government was in. There was no real opposition to social security cuts then and that’s going to be an even bigger problem in England now. I’ve already been to a few meetings where people have said “who can we take this problem to” in the MP sense and nobody’s had any real suggestions.

  3. Pingback: More IDS bollocks: getting rid of Disability Employment Advisers at jobcentres | Kate Belgrave | Britain Isn't Eating

  4. If it hadn’t been for my DEA I’d be trapped on JSA now.

    I was delusional back in 2009. I had to give up my professional work due to ill health, but was sincerely looking for ANY work that could fit in around my new deterioration.

    I had an appointment with the DEA and we went through every aspect of my disability, and at the end of it she said that it wasn’t possible for me to sign on as I just wasn’t well enough.

    Someone like me nowadays would get no such advice. She was absolutely right though, I just carried on to deteriorate; I would have starved had I claimed JSA.

    IDS is hounding sick people off benefits whilst at the same time removing any proper support to seek employment; he truly is insane!

  5. Non-replacement of a DEA is not a particularly new thing that can be attributed to IDS, as I have commented elsewhere from 1996 to 2005 experience, Kate:

    “I complained about underprovision of Disability Employment Advisers way back in about the year 2001. I was an ex-Lib Dem and conferred by email with the office of then Lib Dem Work & Pensions Secretary Steve Webb — especially after Labour’s DWP Secretary Alistair Darling had spoken of calling all Incapacity Benefit claimants into jobcentres for ‘all work test’ interviews. So Steve Webb raised a question in Parliament to which the Employment Minister Nick Browne [with an ‘e’] came back replying that no figures existed on a jobcentre-by-jobcentre basis of recruitment and retention of DEAs existed. (My then DEA was a Computer Science MSc working with the DWP who’d got drafted in, then with unsuitable training levels had been on sick leave for 6 months.) However, national figures, he reported, showed that there were around 650 DEAs for the whole of the Jobcentre Plus network and that figure had remained virtually the same for 10 years. Webb was still Lib Dem Spokesperson in 2010 before getting drafted in via coalition government to be understudy to IDS. (‘Minister of State for Pensions’, to be precise.)”

    Browne also reported that while no centralised figures of DEA deployment and retention were kept centrally, staffing levels of DEAs at individual jobcentres was ‘dictated by local need’. In practice in my 2004 experience, ‘dictated by local need’ can be interpreted as involving the closure of a jobcentre to which a DEA had been attached, and a local jobcentre elsewhere dealing with the embarrassment of being ‘outed’ for negligence in the local press. I wrote a long ‘expert witness by experience’ letter to Camden New Journal citing the above in response to a parent’s letter about disability discrimination/underprovision in schools. That letter was very long yet published in full with the joint-working of the letters editor and advertising manager securing disability-friendly advertising content. (I can probably email you scanned copy of that if you like, Kate, if I can still find it on my system.)

    And a few weeks later, Kentish Town Jobcentre had a new DEA. Through her I was able to access jobcentre-contracted ‘Workstep’ support for jobseeking. While that did not help me get into enduring waged employment, she was so good that she got ‘kicked upstairs’ to be replaced by an inferior successor.

    So maybe campaigning around what next for DEA postholding at the local jobcentre is something the local unemployed workers group should look into?

    • That’s good history. Scanned letter would be good 🙂 I think the key point here is that this latest effort appears particularly to be linked to the advent of Universal Credit, which will of course forever be associated with the glorious IDS. The DEA I refer to above was specific about that – the end of the role “was to do with Universal Credit” and you’ll see in John’s story that this latest effort to get rid of DEAs was all part of the creation of the Unipod structure for Universal Credit, whatever a Unipod structure is. What interested me to was that this person seemed quite concerned about the replacement structure and said there wouldn’t be the time or expertise in it to deal with disabled claimants in the way DEAs have. I’d certainly hook that on IDS. He of course could improve the service for disabled people, but I’m guessing he is not. Campagining to make that point certainly would not go amiss and is a very good suggestion. In the meantime, I’ve sent an FOI to the DWP to try and find out exactly what training the remaining advisers will get, particularly to support disabled people. Then let’s keep an ear to the ground and see how that all turns out on the ground.

      • HE IS OUT TO TAKE EVERY ONE OFF DLA AND ON THE NEW PIPS WHICH IS A WAY OF SAYING YOUR FIT FOR WORK THIS MAN HAS BEEN DOING IT NOW FOR YEARS AND HE WILL NOT STOP TILL HE HAS EVERY ONE OFF BENIFITS HE WAS NO GOOD WHEN HE WAS HEAD OF THE TORIES AND HE STILL NO GOOD LIKES PICKING ON THE DISABLED,SICK,UNEMPLOYED HE HAS MADE THEM ALL SCABS FOR GETTING BENIFITS

  6. Thanks for reinforcement of the fundamental change te DEA role that ‘Unipod’ is supposed to bring in, Kate. The stuff about ‘Work Coach’ and ‘tailored to meet individual needs’ reminds me of
    • what investment banker David Freud told the Telegrahaph in 2008 about a claimant’s own GP’s evidence of disability benefit being biased toward their keeping the claimant on board as a patient. (Article: Welfare is a mess, says adviser David Freud.) and
    • the later ‘disability analysts’ dictum that they are assessing ‘claimants, not patients’ overwriting the Hippocratic Oath. (Article Health professionals’ advice: the ethics.

    There is also a Crippen the Disabled Artist cartoon of a Disability Minister facing a group of disabled people and saying, “When we want your opinion, we will tell you what it is.” To put things another way when it comes to deployment of ‘Work Coaches’ the basis of ‘individual need’ amounts to ‘follow the money’ and ignorance without standards inspections or claimant access to legal aid is absolution from potential charges of professional negligence and abuse.

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