The government has welcomed new figures which show a slight rise in the number of disabled people granted funds to make their workplaces more accessible.
The increase in “new customers helped” through the Access to Work (AtW) scheme comes after the number of people receiving support plummeted during the coalition’s first year.
The figures show the number of new customers helped rose from 2, 320 in the first quarter of 2011/12 to 2,660 in the second quarter.
Despite the modest rise, the first half of 2011-12 still saw a sharp drop in new customers helped compared with the same period in 2010-11, from about 7,700 to about 5,000.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “We are pleased with the rise in figures, but would like to encourage more people to sign up to Access to Work.”
But she declined to say why the government thought the number of new AtW customers helped might have started to rise.
The figures follow a string of concerns that have been raised about the government’s commitment to the scheme – which provides funding for adaptations, equipment and ongoing support at work – since it came to power.
In August last year, Disability News Service revealed that disabled people receiving AtW were being sent “hostile” and “threatening” letters by DWP, giving them just a week to confirm they still needed their funding before it was withdrawn.
Last June, Liz Sayce, RADAR’s chief executive, published a review of employment support for the government and focused strongly on the need to expand and improve AtW.
But the government’s response to her review made several references to concerns that her AtW recommendations could put “additional pressure on funding at a time when resources are limited”.
And in 2010, the government backtracked on a high-profile pledge to allow disabled people to secure AtW funding before they applied for a job.
The coalition also quietly introduced new rules which mean employers or disabled employees 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.
For information on AtW, visit the government’s Directgov website.
26 January 2012