Access to Work inquiry will be first stage in jobs probe


newslatestA committee of MPs is seeking evidence about the Access to Work (AtW) scheme, as part of its investigations into the government’s efforts to support disabled people into work.

Dame Anne Begg, the Labour chair of the Commons work and pensions select committee, said she believed disabled people were finding it harder to secure jobs because the government’s work programmes were “not working for them”.

She said an examination of AtW was the first stage of an investigation into how the government was helping disabled people into work.

Dame Anne said: “We think it’s something that has been forgotten about, essentially.”

She said the biggest AtW challenges appeared to be around people with sensory impairments, who often needed ongoing support, rather than facing one-off costs.

The latest government figures show the number of disabled people receiving workplace support through AtW has started to increase again in the last couple of years, following an initial slump in numbers after the coalition took office.

AtW spending plummeted from £107 million in 2010-2011 to just £93 million in 2011-12.

The number of disabled people claiming funding fell from a peak of more than 37,000 in 2009-10 to 30,780 in 2011-12, before rising to 31,500 in 2012-13, and looks set to increase again in 2013-14.

In her review of employment support for the government in 2011, Liz Sayce, the chief executive of Disability Rights UK, focused heavily on the need to expand and improve AtW, describing it as the government’s “best-kept secret”.

Three years on, there are growing concerns over how the scheme is working – despite the rising number of claimants – particularly among members of the Deaf community.

More than 5,000 people have so far signed a petition calling on DWP to reverse changes made to AtW support for British Sign Language-users, which mean that any deaf person who needs more than 30 hours a week of AtW communication support has to employ their own full-time communication support worker on a salary, even though there are only about 1,000 trained BSL interpreters in the country.

A parliamentary early day motion calling on DWP to reverse the policy has attracted the signatures of 55 MPs.

Phil Friend, a leading disability consultant and director of Phil and Friends, said the Sayce review had called for a “re-focussing” of AtW resources to help more disabled people either get into or stay in open employment.

He questioned whether those recommendations, agreed by government, had been fully implemented.

But he also raised fears that, given the government’s record on cutting benefits and services for disabled people, the committee’s inquiry could provide the coalition with ammunition to slash AtW funding.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how an educational farm run by two disabled people for more than 10 years could be forced to close after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) suddenly removed their AtW support.

Sir Christopher and Lady Musgrave reply on support workers funded by AtW to carry out work they are unable to do themselves, but were told – without warning – that their AtW had been removed because their award-winning farm did not make enough money last year.

Lady Musgrave now plans to submit evidence to the committee’s inquiry.

DNS was also told how another claimant received a similarly sudden call telling her that her AtW payments had been stopped, putting both her job and health at risk.

The committee is particularly interested in the AtW application and assessment process; the adequacy of ongoing support; the scheme’s effectiveness in support people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties; and its effectiveness in helping disabled people to secure a job, stay in employment and develop their careers.

For details on how to give evidence, visit the committee’s website. The deadline for submitting evidence is 20 June.

14 May 2014