Disabled people are raising concerns about the way the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is running its Access to Work disability employment scheme during the coronavirus crisis.
The scheme – which funds support such as personal assistants, travel costs and aids and equipment – helps tens of thousands of disabled people find and keep employment.
But a series of concerns have been raised by disabled people about how the scheme has been functioning since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among those concerns is that complaints and queries from people who receive Access to Work (AtW) support are not being answered by DWP, potentially putting their jobs at risk.
One of those raising concerns is artist-activist Jess Thom (pictured), co-founder of Touretteshero, who has received vital AtW support for more than a decade which enables her to employ a full-time support worker and cover the cost of other work-related access requirements.
Her AtW is due to be renewed this month but she has been trying unsuccessfully for more than three weeks to secure information from DWP on whether she will be able to continue to pay those expenses or her support worker.
Thom told Disability News Service (DNS): “We need clear guidance from AtW about how they will deliver existing support, deal with renewals, and process new claims.
“Ideally AtW would agree to roll forward existing AtW provision in order to free up capacity to focus on any new requests or changed circumstances.”
Among her other concerns, she has called for clarity on what will happen to support workers if the disabled person being funded by AtW to employ them receives payments while on temporary leave through the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Thom, who plans to write to her MP Harriet Harman about the issue, said: “I’m very familiar and confident with AtW and used to asserting myself and my employer is supportive and inclusive and has a good understanding of AtW.
“I’m really worried that if they don’t renew my support on time the DWP will effectively be preventing me from doing my job.
“This is taking up a lot of my time and energy that could be going to other areas of work at the moment.
“I’m worried that if this is causing me this much stress and anxiety then what is the impact on younger disabled people or those who’ve recently started new jobs.”
Other unanswered questions about AtW include whether the scheme will pay for support workers who are self-isolating but can still support their disabled employer by working remotely, an issue raised by Roger Lewis, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, who himself has a support worker funded by AtW.
Among other campaigners to have raised concerns is Nicky Evans, from the StopChanges2AtW campaign.
She has written to Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, to warn that AtW recipients were having to send their forms through the post to their own managers at their home addresses to be approved and signed, and then forwarded on by post again to AtW.
She told him: “Please are you able to confirm if there are any arrangements being made by AtW to agree electronic signatures or another way of approving claim forms during the current Coronavirus lockdown.
“No one seems to be getting any response from AtW either via phone or email at present.”
In response to a series of concerns raised by DNS about AtW, a DWP spokesperson said: “We remain committed to supporting those with disabilities and health conditions at this time.
“That includes prioritising Access to Work applications from customers in critical worker groups and continuing to support people currently in receipt of an award.”
*Sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
Picture by James Lindsay
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