On Monday I attended the local job centre for my Pathways to Work interview. Pathways interviews are held in jobcentres with a Disability Employment Advisor (DEA), the idea is to offer support tailored to the individual's particular health condition and concerns with the eventual aim of moving the person into work and away from benefits.
The interview was booked prior to my having the flu, so I didn't think I needed a home visit. I could definitely have done with the day in bed, let alone the home visit, particularly after spending the previous night without central heating. As I'd got muddled up and thought I was going to an Employment and Support Allowance assessment type interview it didn't occur to me to phone and cancel.
Unsurprisingly parking was tricky, though thanks to the blue badge I could park on the double yellows. I was fairly confident that the 'accessible' entrance system would be just as inaccessible as it was two years ago when I went to see the jobs broker. Sadly my confidence was well placed. The intercom is still sited approximately 5feet up the wall, and the token doorbell at a height a wheelchair user would probably have to strain to reach. On arrival you need to push the intercom, wait for someone to answer...and then just wait. And wait. And wait. For the, ahem, age challenged security guard to walk all the way down from the main job centre. Not an easy task if you struggle to stand up. Obviously there isn't anywhere to sit while you wait!
I was already pushed past my limits when I arrived, waiting to get in and going up pretty much finished me off. I was an attractive, grey coloured, shaking wreck when I arrived. I'm really not sure how I avoided hitting the floor face first. I just headed for the nearest seat to reception and focused on that. The staff were extremely kind, and one lady approached me immediately to see if I was ok, bringing me a tissue and some water.
I've previously met my DEA (Hi S!) who is lovely. Unlike every experience I've had with job brokers, the DEA's know their jobs well, understand the benefits system and crucially the kind of support people with health conditions need to move into work, and have the ability to recognise those who are capable of it. I have no idea why job brokers were introduced as they are incredibly expensive and doing the job the DEA's were already doing, except the DEA's did the job far better and more cost effectively.
It's evident I'm not fit for work so we didn't bother discussing what I'd need to make it possible. This DEA is good, but I reckon a cure for EDS is beyond her remit. What we did discuss was something called 'permitted work'. Broadly speaking, 'permitted work' is for people with health limiting conditions who would like to try a certain type of work to see if it's possible for them, without ending up having their benefits sanctioned. The rules state a maximum of 16 hours 'permitted work' a week, and that the work must be relevant to moving into work whilst not contravening the individual's entitlement to an incapacity benefit. So, for someone with learning difficulties it might be appropriate to try a bricklaying course as 'permitted work' but for inappropriate for someone with a back problem. The individual can earn up to £93.00 a week whilst on 'permitted work', although that may have an impact on entitlement to other benefits such as housing or council tax benefit. The 'permitted work' may be continued for a period of 52 weeks, which can be started or stopped if needed. Once the 52 weeks is up the person either has to move into paid employment or if they are unfit to they will remain on benefit but no longer be allowed to do 'permitted work'
It's all a bit convoluted as anything to do with the benefits system is, but basically it's one of the better ideas to help support people into work as it allows for a gradual process. It seemed like a great idea for me to legitimately be able to try to earn some money from writing.
Except...you're only allowed to do 'permitted work' if you are in receipt of Incapacity Benefit. I'm in receipt of Income Support which means I'm not eligible, despite meeting all the same criteria for incapacity. It's incredibly frustrating.
Just not anywhere near as frustrating as seeing tax money spent on duplicating existing services with poorer quality, more expensive services and demonising benefits recipients so no-one cares enough to notice