The government has been accused of “surreptitiously” introducing new restrictions on how disabled people can claim government funding for vital adjustments in the workplace.
The new rules mean that employers or disabled people themselves will now need to fund equipment such as basic versions of voice-activated software, most adapted chairs, and satellite navigation devices, rather than having them funded through the Access to Work (ATW) scheme.
David Blunkett, Labour’s former work and pensions secretary, said the changes threw “new hurdles” in the way of disabled people looking for work in an “ever-tightening labour market” and in the face of “mass redundancies”.
He said the new rules were a “deeply damaging and cynical exercise in salami-slicing” the support available to disabled people.
He was speaking after the government announced a new review of the employment support provided to disabled people – including ATW – to be led by RADAR chief executive Liz Sayce.
Blunkett said: “It is simply bizarre of the coalition to have announced a review at the same time as having surreptitiously changed the rules in relation to what equipment is available.”
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said: “At the same time as disabled people will receive less support through disability living allowance and other benefits, new guidance has been issued which restricts support for disabled people to get and keep jobs.”
He said the new rules would be “bad for disabled people” and “incredibly bad for employers”.
Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said the new rules were “very concerning”.
She said: “Aren’t we supposed to have an agenda where we are trying to get more disabled people into employment?
“Companies will say ‘we are just not prepared to spend the money on making sure that you can do the job’.
“Companies do not see it as their responsibility, they really don’t. And the government aren’t doing anything to persuade them to see it as their responsibility.”
Sayce said she would be taking a “holistic” look at ATW and the various changes the government wanted to introduce to the programme.
But she said the question of how much should be the responsibility of the employer through its legal duty to make “reasonable adjustments” in the workplace, and how much should be paid for through ATW, was “very much part of what I am looking at”.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said it was “the legal responsibility of employers to provide reasonable adjustments to allow disabled staff to do their work”.
He added: “The ATW programme provides funding for equipment and support that would be above and beyond what is reasonable for an employer to supply.
“The list is to ensure that our advisors across the country have the same guidance to bring consistency to how we deliver the scheme.
“It also makes sense that the scheme’s funds are used where an employer won’t pay for equipment so that we can help as many people as possible.”
8 December 2010