Access to Work cap hits prominent Deaf campaigner as he starts new job

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The newly-appointed Deaf chief executive of a leading disabled people’s organisation has been told the government will only provide him with enough support to pay for interpreters three days every week.

David Buxton, a British Sign Language-user, began his full-time job as chief executive of Action on Disability in London last week, but has immediately been hit by the controversial cap on the Access to Work (AtW) scheme.

The scheme provides disabled people with funding to pay for some of the extra disability-related expenses they face at work, reducing the costs organisations face when taking on disabled employees.

The cap was introduced for new AtW claimants in 2015 and is due to affect existing claimants from April 2018.

Campaigners have been warning for the last two years that the cap, which will limit annual AtW awards to one-and-a-half times the average salary, would hit Deaf users of British Sign Language (BSL) hardest, with BSL services accounting for about four-fifths of the highest-value AtW awards.

But they have also warned that the cap will “actively discriminate” against Deaf and disabled people with high support needs in senior positions, like Buxton.

He had previously received enough AtW support to provide BSL interpreters throughout the week when he was a senior manager at the disability charity Scope and was overseeing about 125 staff across the London and south-east region.

His AtW budget at Scope was about £70,000 a year because he needed to book support every day, and sometimes needed a second interpreter for formal meetings.

When he left to join the British Deaf Association in 2011, he and four colleagues pooled their support, so there was always a full-time interpreter available in the office, while most of the staff used BSL.

But Buxton (pictured, left, giving evidence to a parliamentary inquiry in 2015) had to submit a new claim when he was appointed to head Action on Disability, and he has been told that AtW will only pay a maximum of £42,000 a year, enough to pay for three full days a week or five half-days.

Providing him with full-time interpreter support, and occasional second interpreters for long meetings, would come to about £77,000 a year.

Although Action on Disability, a small charity, has been able to provide £5,000 towards his interpreter costs, he believes he will still have to find another £10,000 a year to ensure he is “effectively performing as chief executive to meet key job requirements”.

He said: “I am very concerned about how much time I spend working out which days every week I need to book an interpreter, as I don’t know when people want to meet, etc, mostly at short notice.

“More than 80 per cent of AtW users facing the cap level are Deaf BSL users. This is totally unfair as it seems the government sees us as expensive [even though]we contribute added value to the economy, such as creating jobs.”

He also said it was “totally unfair” of the government to treat all organisations that employ Deaf and disabled employees the same, whether they are large profit-making companies, charities or disabled business owners.

Victoria Brignell, AoD’s chair, said the AtW cap was “deeply frustrating”.

She said: “It will make it much harder for many disabled people to find and keep a job and I fear that many disabled people will be forced to give up work as a result of it. 

“One of the most annoying aspects of the policy is that this cap will only save the Government £3 million, yet it will cause huge distress for hundreds of disabled people.

“This policy also undermines the government’s own intentions. It has said it wants to see more disabled people in employment, but this policy will make it more difficult for disabled people to work.”

She herself will be hit by the cap when it comes into effect for existing claimants next April.

She says there will be a £16,000 gap between the costs of her personal assistants and travel expenses and what AtW will fund.

She said: “Luckily, I have an understanding employer but other disabled people aren’t so lucky.”

Brignell was behind a petition on the parliament website that called on the government to abandon the cap, and she plans to relaunch it after the election.

Asked whether DWP still thinks the cap is a good policy, a DWP spokeswoman said: “As we made clear when the cap was announced in 2015, the annual cap is based on one and a half times the average annual wage, and continues to be up-rated annually.

“An individual receiving the highest award will potentially benefit from over £120,000 of support across the three-year period of a maximum award.

“We also announced that we would be working with a range of stakeholders and deaf people to undertake a market review of BSL interpreter provision.”

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