Access to Work: Stress of ‘endless requests’ is ‘tantamount to bullying’


newslatestA Deaf youth worker says endless problems with the support he is supposed to obtain through the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme have made it impossible to focus on his job.

Matt Talbot runs a youth forum for young disabled people in Norfolk, but much of his time at work over the last six months has been taken up with dealing with the AtW team at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Talbot is just the latest disabled person to raise concerns about AtW – which provides workplace support for disabled people – and apparent government efforts to restrict spending on the scheme.

He spoke out in the week that leading disabled campaigners were giving evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee about administrative failings with the AtW scheme.

Talbot said: “Access to Work promised me lots of help and support – like providing funding so I can pay for the interpreters I need to do my job successfully.

“Much of my time in the last six months has been spent in correspondence with Access to Work, responding to cuts in the funding I receive and endless requests for detailed information on what I do each minute of the day or information about project users which I am not at liberty to share.

“It’s been a real challenge to deal with the workload of all this – let alone the work I’m expected to do with disabled young people in my day job.”

Talbot has been using AtW for about 10 years, and transfers to new jobs were previously dealt with “smoothly”. That all changed in the last year.

He said: “I’ve had more than four different advisors on my case in six months – it’s become impossible to make any progress.

“It is very stressful. Every day I go to bed thinking, ‘What’s going to happen tomorrow?’ I have no idea what the future is going to bring.

“It affects my job. I am spending so much time dealing with that issue that I don’t have time to actually focus on my work.”

He is also “very concerned” that AtW has withheld more than £10,000 in payments owed to Ensign Interpreting, the small local agency that provides his British Sign Language interpreters.

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, said AtW had been “imposing cuts on disabled people’s funding by stealth with no evidence”.

He said the situation had become “a farce”, and the way Talbot was being dealt with was “tantamount to bullying”.

Peter Weston, director of Ensign Interpreting, said AtW was leaving agencies waiting for payments for months, which was jeopardising disabled people’s support and leaving them “unable to focus on their job roles”.

At its peak, in 2009-10, under the last government, AtW was supporting more than 37,000 disabled people, but this plunged under the coalition to 30,780 in 2011-12, although it has started to increase again in the last couple of years.

AtW spending fell from £107 million in 2010-11 to just £93 million in 2011-12.

A DWP spokesman said: “Access to Work helps more than 30,000 disabled people to take up and remain in employment each year.

“As part of the government’s long-term economic plan we have also increased the budget for Access to Work in order to provide even more people with the specialist aids, equipment and support they need to fulfil their potential and share in the employment opportunities provided by a growing economy.

“It is important that we get decisions right, which may mean we sometimes need to request extra information from claimants, but we regret any delays that may have happened in this case. We have apologised to Mr Talbot and are working to resolve any issues.”

But Talbot told DNS later that AtW had not apologised to him.

He added: “I have quite a few professional friends who have had the same issues and struggle. They have had budget cuts and they have accepted them, but I will not.”

4 September 2014