In my earlier piece on Magical Thinking, I said that it was clear that DWP didn't have the faintest understanding of long-term disability, and were basing their policy on their lack of understanding.
Just how bad that lack of understanding is became chillingly clear in an article in the Guardian on Thursday. The article reports that in a meeting with disability groups in December, DWP announced that it intended to extend a Workfare-like scheme to disabled people. Under Workfare, unemployed people can be forced to take 30 hours a week of unpaid work experience for 8 weeks, or even 6 months in some cases, with the threat of being sanctioned and their benefit withdrawn if they do not comply. Workfare is already under severe fire from many unions and campaigning groups who view it as akin to slave labour, with people effectively working for far less than the minimum wage and jobs effectively taken permanently out of the marketplace as companies like Poundland, Asda, Tesco, Argos and others just take one Workfare assignee after another. Public pressure has already forced several companies, such as Sainsbury's and Waterstones, to withdraw from the scheme.
For disabled people the potential of Workfare alone would be bad enough, but when asked about time limits on the disability scheme, a DWP official said "There are no plans to introduce a maximum time limit." and also made it clear that sanctions would be applied to force people onto the scheme, or punish them if they refused: "Ministers strongly feel there is a link-up to support those moving close to the labour market, and the individual's responsibility to engage with the support. Ministers feel sanctions are an incentive for people to comply with their responsibility."
The scheme will be targeted at people in the ESA WRAG, which includes people with long term disabilities which are severe enough to mean they are not currently capable of work, but are expected to potentially be capable at some point in the future. As I made clear in my earlier article, that 'potentially' means 'might become capable', not 'will become capable' and for many people we are looking at years not decades of them being unfit for work. Unfortunately DWP are sticking their head in the sand in an attempt to deny the reality of disability and replace that reality with magical thinking in which we all have miracle cures at the 12 month mark and become miraculously capable of competing in the job market on an equal footing with none disabled people. Forcing anyone from WRAG into work is a subversion of what the scheme is supposed to stand for, and the limits on the scheme as currently proposed mean it could even be applied to someone with a terminal illness if they have more than six months to live. Worse, it could be applied to someone with severe mental health issues, with no regard for the consequences to their mental health, or to someone with a physical disability with no thought to the negative physical consequences for them.
We knew DWP was being run to an ideological diktat, sorry, Christian principles, with a disregard for facts that would have embarrassed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union at its worst, but this is a step far, far beyond the pale. I know both from direct personal experience and the experience of others that JCP Disability Employment Advisers have an appalling inability to recognise and understand disability, in particular how it will impact working (which considering that is their sole professional purpose is a pretty utter failure). To now give these people the ability to decide on their own initiative that a disabled person should be forced into a work assignment, with only the vaguest notion of what the consequences for that person's health might be, is taking the DWP's duty of care and tossing it not just out of the window but into a passing bin wagon.
A lot of stuff coming out of the DWP worries me, but the consequences of this notion truely scare me. The whole point of people being in the ESA WRAG is that they have been assessed as not currently fit for work, and to design a scheme whose sole purpose is to force people who aren't fit for work into work, and then to try and justify it both having no limits and being subject to sanctions, suggests that DWP are truly placing diktat above reality and that magical thinking has displaced any other form of thinking they might once have been capable of.
(Edited to correct who has withdrawn from Workfare - should have been Sainsburys, not Tesco, Tesco admit to having taken 1400 people under the scheme in the past 4 months, potentially 168,000 hours of unpaid work ).