The UK Government has announced new plans to tackle the barriers faced by disabled people and those with mental health problems, in a move that has been cautiously welcomed by charities but may be more difficult to sell to those who have been affected by years of cuts.
A potential Green Paper will include plans to consult with disabled people and their organisations on reforming the benefits system, which campaigners say is failing disabled people and those with mental health issues.
The Government will also look at overhauling Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) “so it is better enforced, more flexible to encourage a phased return to work, and covers the lowest paid”.
And a new disability unit could be set up in the Cabinet Office. One of its first tasks will be to work with Government departments to make housing more accessible to disabled people.
DWP staff are being encouraged to use “defection scripts” to deter claimants from calling the Universal Credit helpline, it has been revealed.
Callers are asked to explain the reason for contacting the helpline before being asked to provide security information, because it “may open up an opportunity” to fob off claimants to the Universal Credit website.
However, trials found that some DWP call handlers “moved straight into solution mode which is limiting the opportunity to deflect online”.
Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd MP, initially denied the allegation, but evidence of the scripts have since been uncovered by Scottish Labour MP Danielle Rowley.
It has been widely reported that many people struggle to claim Universal Credit online or have difficulties in managing their claims, often due to a lack of internet access or poor IT literacy.
Commenting, Ms Rowley said: “This proves that not only does the DWP operate a callous and indefensible policy of not helping sometimes desperate callers over the phone, it is prepared to mislead the public to try to hide it.
“If the DWP can try and fob off my official inquiries and Parliamentary questions in this way it’s hardly surprising claimants are being forced to jump through hoops.