Over the last few weeks, United Response has been speaking to politicians at our party conference events about the importance of making pre-employment support more readily available for people with learning disabilities, and particularly young people and people with more complex needs.

We have also used the party conferences as an opportunity to talk about some of the concerns we have around the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which will receive further debate at Committee stage in the Commons this week.

Our concerns

While we support the commitment that the Government has made to protect disability benefits, we are concerned that plans to cut and freeze some other working-age benefits, as laid out in this Bill, could still have a negative impact on people with disabilities and/or mental health needs, as well as their families, and could actually make it more difficult for people wanting to get a job to do so.

Like many other disability organisations, we have been raising concerns about certain elements of the proposed legislation, which we feel do not fully take into account the additional costs often incurred by people with disabilities and people with mental health needs when looking for work

Planned changes to Employment Support Allowance, for example, could see some new claimants (those who fall into the Work-Related Activity Group) £30 worse off per week than existing claimants. We are concerned that changes such as these could make it difficult for people to cover the costs of taking part in training or work placements, and therefore make the journey towards finding work more difficult for some.

An opportunity to talk about the difference work can make

While we have concerns, however, we also recognise the Bill as an opportunity to talk about the difference that work, in all its forms, can make to people with disabilities and mental health needs.

We support the commitment that the Government has already made to halve the disability gap in employment and see the Bill as a chance to put in place reporting measures to make sure this goal is met. We believe that clause 1 of the Bill, which places a duty on the Secretary of State to report on progress made towards full employment, should be extended to reporting on the number of people with disabilities in employment, including reporting specifically on people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health needs, who are woefully underrepresented in the workplace.

The passion and level of debate around this Bill has been clearly demonstrated by the fact that the committee stage has now been extended to allow for additional new clauses that MPs from all parties would like to debate in the Commons. As of today, there are 15 additional clauses, all attempting to further refine this crucial legislation. We would like to see any changes ensure that the resulting legislation further protects the interests of people we support.

After the Bill finishes its Committee stage in the Commons next week, it will then pass to the Lords where it is expected to face substantial additional scrutiny, before returning again to the Commons.

Have your say

If you have concerns about how this Bill will affect you or someone you know, there is still time to raise them with your MP. You can find out who your MP is and how to contact them at www.theyworkforyou.com.

Sarah Bartlett, head of press and appeals.