The author of a government report on disability employment has welcomed an extension of the Access to Work (AtW) scheme to some disabled entrepreneurs, but has called for funding to be extended even further.
From Monday (14 January), disabled people moving into self-employment with support from the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) scheme can claim AtW cash for equipment, support workers and travel costs.
The measure was announced last November and trialled in Merseyside, before this month’s national rollout across England, Wales and Scotland.
NEA provides access to a volunteer business mentor, a weekly allowance for the first six months, and possible access to a loan of up to £1,000 to help with business start-up costs.
Esther McVey, the new Conservative minister for disabled people, admitted last October that spending on AtW had plummeted from £107 million in 2010-2011 to just £93 million in 2011-12, while the number of disabled people claiming funding had fallen from 37,000 in 2009-10 to just over 30,000 in 2011-12.
The following month, McVey announced a series of measures – including allowing disabled people on NEA to claim AtW support – to “strengthen and improve” the scheme.
Some of the measures were recommended by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, in her 2011 report for the government on employment support programmes.
Sayce welcomed the decision to extend AtW funding to disabled people on the NEA scheme.
But she called on the government to “systematically” make AtW available for “every type of work experience, traineeship, internship and business set-up”.
She said AtW was available for work experience under the government’s Youth Contract and the Jobcentre Plus Work Trial scheme, but not for the supported internships about to be rolled out nationally for young disabled people.
She said: “It is vital that Access to Work should be available for all the major routes into employment including setting up your own business, work experience, traineeships and internships, otherwise disabled people who need simple things like an interpreter or support worker will have no chance of equality in getting into employment.”
She said this risk was “particularly acute for young disabled people, who risk becoming a new generation lost to employment – being twice as likely as young non-disabled people to be not in education, employment or training.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said the new measure was “not specifically” a recommendation from the Sayce review, but was “in line with her recommendations to focus funding on sustainable work and career choices, including self-employment”.
There are currently 0.5 million self-employed disabled people (15 per cent of those in work), compared with 13 per cent, or 3.2 million, of non-disabled people in self-employment.
McVey said: “We’ve opened up our flagship programme so that disabled people have the same choice to start up their own business as everyone else – in every sector, from hairdressing to engineering and everything in between.”
More than 8,000 businesses have been set up during NEA’s first year.
For details of how to claim AtW, visit the government’s Access to Work pages.
16 January 2013