The coalition government has presided over a dramatic slump in the number of disabled people granted new funds to make their workplaces more accessible.
Government statistics show the number of “new customers” granted funding for adaptations and equipment under the Access to Work (ATW) scheme fell sharply in the first three quarters of 2010-11.
It is the first evidence that new coalition rules on ATW are making it harder for disabled people to secure support.
The rules mean employers or disabled people themselves now have to fund equipment such as basic versions of voice-activated software, most adapted chairs, and satellite navigation devices, rather than having them funded through ATW.
Just 10,640 “new customers” were given funding in the first three quarters of the year, compared with 16,510 in the whole of 2009-10.
If figures for the fourth quarter remain at that level, the new government will have been responsible for a drop of more than 2,000 new customers in its first year.
But the fall could be even more dramatic. Three months ago, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) told Disability News Service that 7,700 new customers had been helped in the first half of 2010-11 (an average of 1,283 a month) and suggested the number of new claims was likely to rise sharply in the second half of the year.
But the new figures suggest the opposite has happened, and the number of “new customers helped” has fallen to just 2,940 in the third quarter (an average of 980 a month, compared with an average of 1,374 a month in 2009-10).
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said: “The statistics reveal what Disability Alliance suspected: that essential support for disabled people to get and keep work is being withdrawn while pressure to find work is ramped up alongside the negative portrayal of disabled people who remain needing help out of work. This is unacceptable and undermines the government agenda.”
The coalition has already broken one ATW pledge, made in its “programme for government”, after backtracking on a promise to allow disabled people to secure ATW funding before they apply for a job.
When asked whether the government was concerned by the drop in “new customers”, a DWP spokeswoman said: “The government is committed to ensuring disabled people get and keep jobs and the ATW programme can help where the assistance needed is above and beyond what the employer could reasonably provide.
“It is right that we concentrate funding for equipment that employers are not legally obliged to provide. By doing this, we can help as many people as possible get into work by making sure the money goes where needed.”
5 May 2011