Access to work crisis: Planning expert tells Tories about ‘nonsense’ rules


newslatestA disabled planning consultant has described how he is only able to claim vital support from the government’s Access to Work scheme for one year out of every two, because of “nonsense” cost-cutting rules introduced by the coalition.

Philip Barton raised his concerns about the rules – and their impact on disabled people with high support needs who can work part-time – at an annual conference organised by the Conservative Disability Group.

But his comments were made after the departure of both the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and the disabled people’s minister, Mark Harper, who both spoke at the fifth annual Disability Colloquium.

Barton has been receiving Access to Work (AtW) support since 2006, but he eventually had to resign his full-time job with the Planning Inspectorate because the stress of not having the correct support – due to wrangling between the inspectorate and AtW – caused him to develop hypertension and diabetes.

Now he claims employment and support allowance, and although he is placed in the support group – for those disabled people with the highest support needs – he has been working up to 16 hours a week through the “permitted work” rules as a self-employed planning consultant.

But because of rules introduced by the coalition, he is only able to claim AtW support for 12 months at a time, and then has to wait a full year before claiming it again.

This meant that he had AtW support in 2012-13, but had it removed in 2013-14, had it reinstated this year, but will have it removed again for a year in April 2015.

Barton, who is not himself a member of the Conservative party, told the Disability Colloquium event: “Access to Work was a fantastic programme but since 2010 the rules have been changing.

“If you are on ESA the law says that you are allowed to do up to 16 hours a week on an indefinite basis as long as you are in the support group.

“Now the government has changed AtW rules so you can only claim AtW for 12 months and then you have to stop claiming for 12 months and then you can claim again.

“It’s that lack of a personalised approach for disabled people that is knocking the confidence of recently disabled people who want to get into work, need the support, are assessed as needing it, but get that withdrawn because they are not 100 per cent fit to start work within 12 months.”

He told Disability News Service (DNS) later that the AtW rules were “a nonsense” when permitted work rules allow him to work for up to 16 hours a week for an unlimited period.

He said: “The effect this has had on my working life is to limit the jobs I can take.

“During the times when I do not have an award, I cannot work outside a 100-mile radius of my home office due to the prohibitive cost of personal assistant support and the need to pay for overnight accommodation and anti-social hours payments for my driver/personal assistant.

“In the case of all jobs where I require support, without my AtW award I am forced to charge the cost to clients, which makes me less competitive than able-bodied consultants, or pay for the support out of my own pocket.”

So far, the Department for Work and Pensions has failed to comment on Barton’s case, which is just the latest in a series of concerns about AtW reported by DNS.

Last month, Harper was told by MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee that the government’s AtW reforms had led to a huge backlog of claims, “appalling” administration, and rude and poorly-trained advisers.

DNS has run a series of reports over the last six months from disabled people concerned about administrative problems, delays and cuts to their AtW funding.

They include Jenny Sealey, chief executive and artistic director of Graeae, who was co-director of the London 2012 Paralympics opening ceremony, and who has had her AtW support cut by more than half, putting her career at risk.

20 November 2014