Ministers have only made a tiny dent in the number of disabled people waiting for a decision on their Access to Work claim in the last year, new figures have revealed.
Unpublished figures released to Disability News Service (DNS) show there are still more than 23,000 disabled people waiting for their claim to be dealt with by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The queue has been cut by just 46 in 12 months, from 23,335 at the end of May 2022 to 23,289 at the end of May 2023.
The average waiting-time had even risen, from 49.1 days to 50.1 days, although DWP said this week that June’s figures showed it had now fallen to 41 days, having risen as high as 63 days last October.
The length of the queue had risen as high as 25,000 by the end of October 2022.
In May 2022, DWP blamed the lengthening AtW queue on the number of disabled people who were starting new jobs.
It claimed it was “working hard” to make sure applications were “progressed as soon as possible”, through recruiting new staff and introducing overtime working.
Tom Pursglove, the new minister for disabled people, delivered a similar defence last November, when he told Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Jon Ashworth, that there had been “a significant increase in applications over the last year” and that DWP had “recruited new staff to meet the increased demand and reduce the time it takes to make decisions”.
He also claimed the department was “transforming the Access to Work service through increased digitalisation, that will make the service more efficient, will make the application process easier, and improve the time taken from application through to decision”.
This week, DWP again blamed a significant increase in applications and again claimed it had recruited new staff to meet the increased demand and reduce the time it takes to make decisions.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We have hired extra staff and are testing a new digital claims system to make sure everyone entitled to Access to Work support receives timely help.
“Anyone starting work within four weeks is fast-tracked, while our improvements have seen processing times fall in the last year.”
The concerns over Access to Work inefficiency are long-standing.
A report commissioned by Inclusion London found in 2017 that the scheme was “a cornerstone of the movement for equality and civil rights for Deaf and disabled people in the UK” but had been “beset with so much bureaucratic incompetence and obstructionism in recent years that, in many respects, Access to Work is no longer fit for purpose”.
The new figures came as a report from the Commons work and pensions committee criticised the Access to Work scheme for being “highly bureaucratic in terms of the evidence and administration of paperwork required to apply for, renew or claim back costs”.
The committee’s report on the government’s employment programmes says the system is “outdated and often unable to accept online document submission or e-signatures”.
The committee concluded: “A system that requires applications and claims must be sent in by hand acts as a practical barrier to support.”
The report calls for DWP to update its Access to Work document submission process by the end of this year so all documentation can be submitted online.
Picture: DWP’s Westminster offices, by Google
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