The government has announced a series of new measures it hopes will reverse the slump in the number of disabled people benefiting from its Access to Work employment support scheme.
Esther McVey, the new Conservative minister for disabled people, said the measures would expand the programme and make it easier to apply for funding.
The move came only a fortnight after Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, wrote to the minister to express “serious concerns” about the rapid fall in the number of claimants and the government’s slow progress in reforming Access to Work (AtW).
McVey admitted last month that spending on AtW had plummeted from £107 million in 2010-2011 to just £93 million in 2011-12. The number of disabled people claiming funding has fallen from 37,000 in 2009-10 to just over 30,000 in 2011-12.
Now McVey has told MPs that she wants to “strengthen and improve” the scheme, which provides funding for adaptations, equipment and ongoing support to make workplaces more accessible.
Among her plans, she has dropped the much-criticised list of standard equipment that AtW would not normally fund, and which McVey’s ministerial predecessor Maria Miller introduced soon after the coalition came to power.
McVey admitted that the list had not “always operated as effectively as it might have done, and may have discouraged some applications”.
In another important change, companies employing between 10 and 49 people will no longer be expected to share the costs of AtW adjustments with the government, bringing them into line with the smallest businesses and saving them up to £2,300 per employee, although medium-sized and large businesses will still be expected to share such costs.
Among other changes, there will be a “fast-track assessment process” for claimants who already know their support needs, and it will be easier for individuals to transfer equipment provided through AtW if they move jobs.
And disabled people’s organisations will be asked to produce “innovative” schemes that would offer peer support to AtW claimants.
Some of the measures were recommended by Sayce in her report for the government last year on employment support programmes, while others have come from the government’s new AtW expert panel, chaired by Mike Adams, chief executive of ecdp (Essex Coalition of Disabled People).
Sayce welcomed the changes and said she hoped the scheme would now “work better for small employers”.
But she called on the government to improve marketing of the scheme and to make it available to more people.
She said: “Access to Work remains heavily bureaucratic and government must cut red tape and also expand the initiative to a broader group of young disabled people and disabled people working abroad.”
She called for a joint awareness-raising campaign between Disability Rights UK, other disabled people’s organisations, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce and health professionals.
22 November 2012