Access to Work: ‘Scheme’s future in jeopardy through cuts and incompetence’
Summary: The future of the government’s Access to Work (AtW) disability employment scheme is in jeopardy because of “bureaucratic incompetence” and a cost-cutting drive to reduce people’s support packages, according to new research.
The report, commissioned by Inclusion London, found that “shocking levels of delay, error, and the de-skilling of staff” were putting Deaf and disabled people’s jobs at risk.
The Barriers to Work report, written by disabled researcher and campaigner Catherine Hale, is based on a survey of 320 AtW customers – more than half of whom were Deaf or had hearing impairments – which was carried out last year by the campaign group StopChanges2AtW*.
Hale said the AtW scheme – set up in 1994 and providing disabled people with funding to pay for some of the extra disability-related expenses they face at work – was “a cornerstone of the movement for equality and civil rights for Deaf and disabled people in the UK”.
But her report concludes that the programme has been “beset with so much bureaucratic incompetence and obstructionism in recent years that, in many respects, Access to Work is no longer fit for purpose”.
Marsha de Cordova, a disabled Labour MP and her party’s new shadow minister for disabled people, told a parliamentary event held to launch the report that “poor policy” and “severe cuts” had left the scheme “unworkable for so many of us”.
She said the reviews that led to people’s packages being cut “ultimately will result in many Deaf and disabled people being unable to stay in or retain their work”.
De Cordova, who said she had benefited from AtW support through most of her career, said: “This scheme, as we all know, is a fundamental part of employing Deaf and disabled people and ensuring that we can stay in work.”
She said her own experiences ranged from the programme being “very good to being poor and incredibly frustrating”, and added: “They make it so difficult to be assessed for support.”
She said: “I intend in my role, just as an activist, because I am first and foremost a disability rights activist, to press on the government to ensure that they adequately fund this scheme, but also they have to address, they have to reverse, all of the stripping away of cuts, because without that the scheme is not going to work and we will not see more Deaf and disabled people into work.”
One of the aspects the report warns about is the imposition of a cap – currently £42,100 – on annual AtW packages, which already affects new claimants but will not affect existing customers until next April.
The cap is expected to affect 200 AtW customers, of whom about 90 per cent will be Deaf or have hearing loss.
StopChanges2AtW believes this will discourage employers from recruiting Deaf people, increase the likelihood of discrimination, and reduce equality of opportunity.
Paul Redfern, the British Deaf Association’s senior community development manager, told the launch event that a number of Deaf professionals had lost their registrations because they were not given enough interpreting support by AtW to maintain their “continuing professional development”.
He said the new cap meant that Deaf people would be forced “to leave work and be replaced by hearing people”, and he added: “Employers will become more and more reluctant to employ Deaf members of staff because they will be seen as expensive.”
Penny Parker, who uses Access to Work, and is employed by the disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives, had her account of her AtW experiences read by Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, as she was not able to attend the launch event.
She said she couldn’t fault the scheme when she began claiming support in 2010, but since AtW began to review her package towards the end of 2015 she said her experience had been “horrendous”, and ended – after a year – with a package “that meant I go to work less and pay more”.
Parker, who is totally blind, said one adviser had “felt the need to question why I don’t drive myself to work”.
The process had affected her job, her mental health, her relationship with her support workers, the taxi company that drives her to work, and her family and private life.
She said: “I was so impressed by the scheme when I set out in 2010. Now it’s a sham and disables rather than enables disabled people to work.”
Harrison said Parker had called him while he was on the way to the event to say that the taxi company she uses had told her it would not be able to take her to work the next day because AtW had not paid its invoices since April.
He said: “AtW said, ‘We have changed the way we want our invoices formatted,’ but they had not informed either Penny or the taxi company.
“She is a prisoner in her own home, unable to do her job because of AtW.”
Deidre Brock, the SNP’s shadow spokeswoman for fair work and employment, who was also at the launch, said people were facing “nothing more nor less than discrimination”.
She said the report’s 11 recommendations for improvements to the scheme – which include commitments not to place Deaf and disabled people at financial risk, and to put the scheme at the heart of the government’s strategy to increase the number of disabled people in work – were “more than acceptable” and “actually quite modest in scope”.
Most of those surveyed by StopChanges2AtW had full-time jobs, while a third had received AtW for at least 10 years.
But only 15 per cent of those surveyed said they found it easy to apply for AtW or to use it.
Among the problems they faced were: not being told when their AtW award was ending, which left people in debt to their support workers; significant amounts of time spent disputing their needs with AtW staff; lengthy delays in assessments for support, which in some cases left people unable to take up a new job or offer of work; and lost paperwork, again leaving many people in debt.
As many as 50 respondents said that without AtW they would be unemployed and reliant on benefits.
Of the survey respondents, nearly half (46 per cent) said there had been changes to their AtW package, but only three per cent said this had led to an increase in their support.
There was substantial evidence of: “rationing” of support by AtW, with more frequent re-assessments and tighter eligibility criteria; a higher burden of proof to show need for support; increased complexity and unnecessary repetition in AtW forms; and a perception by respondents that they were “under surveillance and suspicion”.
AtW staff frequently used phrases such as “funding cuts”, “too expensive”, “need to make savings” and the “need to reduce fraud” when they told claimants that their levels of support were changing.
One of those who took part in the survey, Sayeeda, said: “The way Access to Work treated me was horrible.
“I was talked to in a way where the advisor thought that they knew better than me about the support that I need to do my job. It was always a very aggressive tone.”
Another, Angela, said it took her seven months to secure the funding she needed to pay for support workers while she was at work.
She said: “During this period, I frequently went without anything to eat and drink all day because I did not have a support worker to assist me with feeding.”
A third disabled woman, Sue, said the way she had been treated by AtW “and the amount of obstacles repeatedly put in my way, have very seriously affected both my ability to continue working, and my mental health, to the point that my GP has had to intervene”.
The report concludes: “An apparent agenda of cost cutting rather than investing to save is putting Deaf and Disabled people’s jobs and livelihoods at risk.
“If this trend continues we will see reduced diversity in the UK workforce, and an increase in the numbers of Deaf and Disabled people claiming out of work benefits.”
Asked to respond to the report, a DWP spokeswoman said: “We want more disabled people to get into employment and keep their jobs.
“The Access to Work grant can provide over £40,000 of practical support a year, which is tailored to individuals’ needs and can include travel to work, support workers and specialist equipment.
“We continuously review the scheme to make sure it’s working in the best way possible, and last year we launched a digital service to make the application process more accessible and efficient.
“Last year 25,000 people had their request approved by Access to Work, an increase of eight per cent from 2015-16.”
In the November 2015 spending review, the government pledged to increase the number of people the scheme helped by 25,000 a year by 2020, increasing spending by nearly a quarter.
But earlier this month, the government was accused of manipulating statistics in an attempt to hide the ongoing barriers, cuts and harassment experienced by AtW claimants, following the release of experimental figures which showed the number of disabled people approved every year for support from the programme had fallen by 15 per cent under seven years of Conservative rule.
The number of people who had Access to Work support approved in 2016-17 was nearly 2,000 higher than the previous year, but the figure for 2016-17 (23,630) was still more than 4,000 lower than in the final year of the last Labour government (27,760).
Critics said the way DWP was publishing AtW statistics meant it was impossible to know how many disabled people were currently receiving support compared with previous years, or how the average level of support packages had risen or fallen.
Source: Disability News Service
Other recent news items:
- Doctors’ union finally agrees to spread the word
- Disability Politics UK: call to prioritise step free access
- Children with disabilities: targeted violence and hostility
- Dementia care: how social enterprises are developing products and services
- Adass spring seminar: four things you need to know
- The Disability Audit: the eight coalition policies that have hit disabled people
- DWP told to publish ESA deaths report, after two-year delay
- The struggle to find work when you have Down's syndrome
- PIP Delay Crisis Over, Claims DWP
- Meet Justin Tomlinson MP- New Minister For Disabled People
- A quick guide to new care minister Alistair Burt
- How to use your disability as a strength when applying for jobs
- Devastating impact of cuts on disabled people
- NHS ‘has wasted more than a year’ on latest bid to improve wheelchair services
- Five Thousand Disabled Adults Sexually Abused In Last 2 Years Says NSPCC
- ESA Claimant Takes On Maximus And Wins
- One in five benefit-related deaths involved sanctions, admits DWP
- Manchester United tell family with disabled son to watch Stockport instead
- Joint mental health commissioning strategy
- New parliament sees number of disabled MPs plunge
- Motability under spotlight over cuts to grants… despite £190 million reserves
- Disabled people ‘should come together in new national body’
- 'It's a great honour': Selby appoints UK's first mayor with learning disabilities
- Voluntary Community Social Enterprise Review website
- Cameron downgrades minister for disabled people
- Poor UK cancer survival rates linked to lack of GP direct access to scans
- Charity highlights role of siblings in supporting adults with a disability
- Queen’s Speech fails to mention social care funding
- Queen’s speech ‘suggests the worst is yet to come'
- TV industry must improve representation of disabled people
- The bionic suit helping wheelchair users get back on their feet
- New project to tackle mental health issues
- Equality watchdog contradicts football’s Premier League over access
- Schools 'must improve support for diabetic children'
- National Theatre plans shows on issue of disability
- Rise in mental health bed occupancy
- Watchdog writes to Man Utd after stewards confiscate walking aids from fans
- Government cuts ‘could see disabled people slide back to the bad old days’
- Disabled payment delay unlawful, judge rules
- The 'dragons' who want to help disabled people start their own business
- Boy, 12, wins £120,000 in damages after swine-flu jab left him 'severely disabled' by narcolepsy
- DWP ignores watchdog’s deadline over benefit-related deaths
- Man who cannot walk or talk called for jobcentre 'back to work' interview
- UK woman can ride bike for first time with 'world's most lifelike bionic hand'
- GPs to refer more patients with low-risk cancer symptoms under new NICE guidance
- Disability campaigners clash with police inside parliament over benefit cuts
- Indefinite Award DLA Transfer To PIP Will Start From July In Certain Postcodes
- Disabled children less happy with hospital care than peers
- ILF closure: Process has caused ‘fear, stress and anxiety’, say researchers
- Disability poverty rose sharply in fourth year of coalition
- UK services failing patients with dementia
- Shadow disability minister admits backing assisted suicide bill
- Disabled people's rights threatened by government cuts, campaigners warn
- BBC Three’s ‘Defying The Label’ Season
- From 'bloodied knees' to the House of Commons as a disabled MP
- Mental health patients sent hundreds of miles for beds as out of area placements rise 23 per cent
- Systematic over-medication blights learning disability care
- The Superhumans return to Channel 4
- Accessible Information Standard Approved
- Doctors demand return of lung cancer awareness campaign
- David O’Mar, 58, Found Fit For Work Two Weeks Before His Death
- World First Bionic Eye Gives Hope To Millions
- Seven-day NHS to include child mental health services, minister confirms
- Court hears appeal on ‘unfair’ PIP 20 metre rule consultation
- New report by Business Disability Forum cites lack of skills in line managers as major barrier to retention of disabled employees
- Tanni says 10,000 signatures could finally transform wheelchair services
- BBC3 presenter and journalist crowdfunding to transform the lives of people with disabilities in Ghana
- Disabled voters take pioneering legal action over election access
- Has disability sport lost its London 2012 Paralympics momentum?
- NHS Announce New Care Guidelines For Learning Disabilities
- Fresh evidence that ‘benefit scrounger rhetoric’ is causing hate crime
- Sanctioned Jobseekers With Mental Health Problems Are Not ‘Vulnerable’ Says DWP
- Clubs “Neglecting Responsibility” To Disabled Fans
- Latest Figures Show Massive Rise In ESA Sanctions
- ‘Bizarre’ figures raise fears over ministers’ plans for ESA
- School nurses ‘need better mental health training’
- Number of people developing dementia 'stabilising'
- Boy, nine, fitted with first prosthetic hand that can change grip with gestures
- Iain Duncan Smith criticises employers over disability employment gap
- Disability benefit sanctions soar by 30% in a year
- Thousands have died after being found fit for work, DWP figures show
- Goths at risk of depression or self-harming, research says
- Elderly 'ripped off' in mobility scooter market
- GPs are missing cancer in children - because they 'don't have enough training'
- IDS announces 'fitness for work' U-turn that was five years in the making
- People with autism and learning disabilities excel in creative thinking, study shows
- Starbucks apologises for telling woman she was not 'disabled enough' to use the toilet
- DLA Lifetime Award PIP Transition Started from 1 September in 29 New Areas
- Successful 'Fit for Work' Appeals at Highest Ever Level, Show DWP Stats
- Why is our justice system failing vulnerable people?
- UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms
- Coroners 'ground breaking' verdict: Suicide was 'triggered' by 'fit for work' test
- Schoolboy calls for more disabled characters in children's books
- The quadruple amputee who needs the correct prosthetic
- Welfare to work programme failing disabled and ill jobseekers, say charities
- Disabled fans 'delighted' as Premier League finally acts on access
- Two-thirds of adult social care requests rejected by local councils
- Independent Living Fund: Government silence 'suggests something to hide'
- UK employers report rise in mental health problems: CIPD study
- UN inquiry considers alleged UK disability rights violations
- Parliament's own disability group picks first non-disabled chair in nearly 50 years
- Dementia drug 'keeps patients out of nursing homes'
- Disability benefit cuts will actually make it harder for disabled people to find work,coalition of 60 charities warns
- Problems with the care and treatment provided by the NHS and/or difficulties in accessing health services?
- Consultation on the proposed new adult social care strategy
- The Leicestershire Advice Service for Social Care is here to guide you
- Minister: MPs must help 'open doors' for disabled jobseekers
- 'Homes not hospitals': learning disability care to move to community
- Equality Act 'simply isn't strong enough' for BSL-users, peers are told
- Disability Hate Crimes Rise 41% In A Year
- Companies fear employing people with learning disabilities, survey reveals
- DWP cuts specialist disability employment advisors in jobcentres by over 60 per cent
- Watchdog 'must do more to support disabled people to fight discrimination'
- ‘We must keep banging the drum,’ says bus campaigner after five-year fight for justice
- 2,000 disabled people wrongly declared ‘fit to work’ by DWP in just three months
- Local authorities 'spend close to nothing on mental health'
- Rock band with learning disabilities release first single
- NICE seeks to improve diagnosis and treatment of cerebral palsy
- Premier League clubs face legal threat unless disabled access is improved
- UK’s progress on disability rights ‘patchy and tortuous’, UN told
- Peer pressure sees minister finally announce date for taxi access laws
- Stop the NHS slashing vulnerable people’s care packages in and around Leicestershire
- Minister tells industries to increase representation of disabled people
- Disabled children in England 'finding it increasingly hard to access council care'
- Wheelchair Rugby Loses Funding Appeal
- Plans that could force people into institutions could be ‘front line’ of national problem
- Young people 'fear stigma' if they ask for mental-health help
- Disability benefits process is 'inherently flawed', MPs told
- Businesses woefully ill-equipped to deal with Britain's rapidly growing mental health crisis
- Cash boost for pupils with special needs and disability
- PIP investigation: ‘Horrific’ suicide question sparks fresh assessment inquiry calls
- Disability report: Being disabled in Britain
- Stop PIP reassessments for patients with progressive diseases, campaigners say
- Patients with learning disabilities missing out on health checks
- Thousands have disability vehicles taken away
- Aspire announces GLL and LCiL as first partners to lead InstructAbility
- Easy read guide to voting by post
- Online campaign ‘could enable disabled people to affect election outcome’
- Health Committee inquiry and report: Brexit and Health and Social Care – People and Process
- Women’s Resource Centre report: the Impact of Austerity Measures on Women’s Voluntary and Community Organisations
- Disabled people ‘forced into dangerous workfare that breaches health and safety laws’
- Mental Health Foundation report: Surviving or Thriving? The State of the UK’s Mental Health
- Stirling University to launch home dementia app
- General Election 2017: What are the parties promising disabled people?
- Anger, resignation… and optimism in wake of general election result
- New disabled MPs pledge to fight for rights in parliament
- Queen’s speech: May ‘abandons’ election pledge on access
- The waiting time for a vital disability benefit has risen hugely in 6 months
- Almost 6,000 mental health patients sent out of area for care last year
- Patients increasingly forced to crowdfund their own wheelchairs as NHS provision not enough, doctors warn
- Years of austerity have left personal assistance in ‘very fragile state’
- Over Half Of Foodbank Users Are Households With A Disabled Person
- Prince Harry launches brain injury card in Suffolk
- Iain Duncan Smith says work capability assessments don't work and are 'too harsh'
- PIP investigation: 200 cases of dishonesty… and still DWP, Atos and Capita refuse to act
- Global blindness set to 'triple by 2050'
- My disability abortion bill could halt Britain’s slide towards eugenics, says Tory peer
- Jobcentre Staff Have An Alarming Lack Of Confidence Dealing With Disabled Claimants
- BBC initiative for disabled actors is a ‘wake-up call’ for producers
- Bus industry set to face fresh legal action over access to wheelchair space
- Government accused of breaching UN convention in its treatment of disabled people
- Theresa May admits UK mental health services are 'patchy'
- 2,000 children with learning disabilities left without a school
- UK faces UN examination: Government cuts caused ‘human catastrophe’
- Half of parents of disabled children forced to reduce working hours due to 'unlawful' cuts to school transport
- Summit meeting will aim to bring movement together on independent living
- Have you got the wrong impression about schizophrenia?
- Quarter of 14-year-old girls 'have signs of depression'
- Council’s review finds PIP ‘not fit for purpose’
- Epilepsy medication impact not shared
- What is universal credit - and what's the problem?
- Calls for Amazon to ban 'anorexia hoodie'
- Green man crossings 'too fast' for people with arthritis
- Mental health patients being failed as services face 'potent mix' of workforce cuts and rising demand, shows report
- Universal Credit helpline charges scrapped
- Hate crimes against disabled children rise 150 per cent in two years
- Modelling debut for boy, 11, with Down's syndrome
- Wheelchair access at Premier League grounds improved after campaigning
- Mental health sees 300,000 people leave their jobs each year
- Care Quality Commission report: Annual State of Health Care and Adult Social Care in England 2016/17
- Access to Work: ‘Scheme’s future in jeopardy through cuts and incompetence’
- Tailored treatment study aims to improve prostate cancer care
- Government admits disabled people have been receiving too little financial support from DWP
- Disabled people worry about telling employers of their condition
- Disabled woman takes DWP minister to court over PIP mental health changes
- Women and disabled people hit hardest by years of austerity, report confirms