Work gives back self-esteem

Anne Gould After two years on incapacity benefit, a person is more likely to die or retire than to ever work again. A new campaign in Norfolk aims to change that. JON WELCH reports.

Anne Gould

A campaign to help people off benefits and into work could save taxpayers at least £36m in Norfolk alone, according to the government.

Efforts are under way to help at least 4,500 people in the county back to work over the next three years.

The Department for Work and Pensions estimates that for every person who leaves incapacity benefit for work, taxpayers save £8,000 a year.


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Government figures show that after two years on incapacity benefit, a person is more likely to die or retire than to ever work again.

A new campaign aims to change that by publicising the opportunities available to claimants eager to work and to employers who are looking for skilled workers, or who want to support the back-to-work drive by offering work experience or job tasters.

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It is being co-ordinated by national charity Shaw Trust, based at the Rose Lane Business Centre in Norwich, and Jobcentre Plus, which manages the government's flagship Pathways to Work programme.

Pathways to Work provides extra help for people on incapacity benefits to find work, offering a service that includes support from personal advisers, condition management support, a return-to-work credit of £40 a week, and in-work support.

Rob Hetherington, Norfolk Jobcentre Plus district manager, said: “Pathways to Work provides people with real opportunity, and not just to lift themselves out of poverty.

“The evidence shows that work improves people's health, self-esteem, quality of life and wellbeing. With the support from Shaw Trust and Pathways to Work, people in Norfolk will be able to take advantage of the opportunities that will result from our local employment partnerships with employers.”

Sharon Dickson, Norfolk district manager for Shaw Trust, said: “We believe that everyone has the right to work, and our mission is entirely about supporting people into sustainable employment.

“I have been working in job broking for the New Deal for Disabled People for some time, but was eager to work on Pathways, because it's a natural progression, offering enhanced provision and the opportunity for early intervention.

“Over half of incapacity benefit claimants state their main reason for still being on benefits is due to mental health issues. In fact, often that's secondary.

“Their original health issue may have been a bad back or a disability, for instance, but as time has gone on, their circumstances impact on their mental well being.

“The statistics don't help. The government's own figures show that after two years on incapacity benefits, a person is more likely to die or retire than ever to work again.

“Life on incapacity benefits or disabled living allowance all too often means a cycle of poverty, declining health and depression. That cycle can be broken with expert help and support. Jobcentre Plus, Shaw Trust and its partners are helping to change lives.

“The impact on individuals who get back to work is incredible. You cannot overestimate the power that social and economic inclusion has on individual lives.”

A Shaw Trust spokesman said the programme would not force anybody into work. “Shaw Trust does not force anyone into work or have any interest in participating in a scheme that forces people into work,” she said.

“Pathways to Work is about providing an increased level of support to help individuals with health problems or disabilities get back into work and stay in work.

“The programme is flexible and personally tailored to an individual's needs and abilities. It's about removing barriers and finding the right kind of work for each individual.

“It is an accepted fact that being in the right kind of work improves an individual's self-esteem, quality of life and well-being. Worklessness is one of the biggest causes of poverty and ill health and at Shaw Trust we believe that everyone has the right to work and take back a greater level of control of their lives.

“Remember 80 to 90pc of people making a new claim for incapacity benefit say they expect to return to work and over 25 years of our experience the vast majority of our customers want to work. They just need the right kind of help.”

Anyone claiming incapacity benefits can access the service by contacting the Shaw Trust on 0808 180 2002.

NOW STORM CAN TALK TO THE ANIMALS - WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM HER FRIEND

For animal expert Storm Cosbie-Ross the launch of her new business marks the day she finally leaves her nightmare past behind.

Just three years ago Storm was too ill and depressed even to set foot outside her home and unable to see a future for herself or her son Nathan.

Today, settled with Nathan, 15, and partner Sy, 32, in Fakenham, she is happy and looking forward to a successful future with her business Animal Instincts, which she launched last month with the help of national employment charity Shaw Trust.

Storm, 42, hit rock bottom when she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which left her feeling chronically tired and suffering permanent severe muscle pains. “I felt like I'd run a marathon all the time. I became very depressed and withdrawn and just went downhill. I never even left my house for two years except for medical appointments and needed help to do that,” she said.

Storm said she had known something was wrong for months before doctors finally diagnosed her with fibromyalgia, telling her it was caused by stress.

For two years Storm was a shadow of her former self. Thin and ill, she was finally persuaded by a social worker to attend the local First Focus community centre to get help and support.

For a year she went once a week, joining as a volunteer before signing up for animal behaviour courses online which led her to think about working with animals again.

“I'd worked with animals all my life since I was 13 and first started working with the RSPCA as a volunteer. I knew I wasn't well enough to work full-time but I just didn't have the confidence to do anything for myself until I met a Shaw Trust adviser at the First Focus centre.”

With the help of Shaw Trust adviser Helen Meikle, Storm started to believe she could achieve her dream and began working to make it come true, taking further courses in book-keeping and animal health care.

Buoyed up by her reputation among friends and neighbours as the “pet whisperer”, she now has a waiting list of clients ready to support her new business which helps owners of dogs, horses, cats and birds resolve their animals' behaviour problems.

Storm's business will also feature a pre-pet ownership scheme to help would-be owners find the right dog for them.

And Storm has trained her springer-labrador cross Logan to be her assistance dog.

“Logan does so much for me, from getting the washing out of the machine to picking up and passing me whatever I need,” she said.

“My illness hasn't gone away. I am still in constant pain, but sitting around all day only made me feel worse and I can't wait to get out and start working now. If I'm having a really bad day I can work from home, counselling people on the phone.”

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