Nearly all of the disabled people whose Access to Work (AtW) entitlement is reviewed by the government are having their support cut, according to evidence being compiled by disability organisations.
The evidence suggests that the government is only managing to increase the number of people receiving support under the AtW scheme by cutting individuals’ allocations.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has come under fire over the last year after reports of administrative problems, delays and cuts to funding within the scheme.
DWP insists that delays to processing of AtW payments have “now been resolved, all backlogs have been cleared and payments are being processed on time”, but the new research suggests that most disabled people whose AtW allocation is reviewed are having their support cut.
The organisations carrying out the research include Disability Rights UK (DR UK), the British Deaf Association, the South-East Network of Disabled People’s Organisations, Spectrum Centre for Independent Living and the Business Disability Forum (BDF).
Sue Bott, DR UK’s director of policy and development, said: “It does seem for most people that if they have a review they end up with a reduction in their Access to Work support. We are concerned about it.”
Spectrum has estimated that the cut in AtW support for its staff members is costing it £1,000 a month.
Bott said: “Their employees need the support and they are no longer getting it. All the time the arguing [with AtW]is going on, Spectrum are having to pay out. It is very challenging for a disabled people’s organisation.”
The group of organisations have been collecting case studies for a short report they intend to release when the government publishes its response to the AtW inquiry carried out by the Commons work and pensions select committee.
The committee said in its report in December that AtW’s limited budget of just over £100 million a year meant ministers could be boosting the number of people receiving help from the scheme at the expense of cutting high-cost support packages.
Bott said: “I think there is a tension between wanting to increase the number of people who benefit from Access to Work and the total resources available.
“As the select committee said, we have got to do both. You cannot just increase the numbers without looking at the size of the resources.”
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.
The latest figures, published in January, show 35,540 disabled people were helped in 2013-14.
One concern is that the cuts in support will mean disabled employees will not only struggle in their jobs, but will also find it harder to progress in their careers.
Bott added: “It is particularly difficult for smaller employers like disabled people’s organisations who do not have the resources to fill in the gap and of course the people who are self-employed, because they have nowhere to go.”
George Selvanera, BDF’s director of policy, services and communications, said his organisation remained concerned about cuts to disabled people’s AtW budgets.
He said: “We really need to see a much more personalised approach to all applicants and particularly those who have higher support costs.”
He added: “All this reflects a fundamental problem, which is that AtW is a labour market intervention, it is not a benefit.
“It is about addressing a failure in the labour market, it is not a benefit for the individual.”
Bott said she was also concerned that a report written by the government’s Access to Work expert panel – chaired by Mike Adams – has never been published, although it reportedly made 21 recommendations to the government.
Although Esther McVey – at the time, the minister for disabled people – thanked the panel for its “invaluable insight and contribution”, in July 2013, she did not publish the report.
Bott said: “We have no way of knowing what those recommendations were or whether they have been implemented.
“It would be helpful and in the interests of transparency, given that there are so many concerns about how Access to Work is working with people on a day-to-day basis, if that report was made public. I cannot see what there is to hide.”
Selvanera added: “We think all of this information should be in the public domain. There is a complete lack of transparency about the way decisions are made.”
So far, neither DWP nor Adams have commented on why the report was never published.