Disabled people who rely on a key employment support scheme to stay in work are being given just a week to confirm they still need their funding, or face having it withdrawn.
The Department for Work and Pensions has sent “hostile” and “threatening” letters across the country to disabled people receiving support from the Access to Work (AtW) scheme, telling them they must undergo an immediate “review” of their funding.
The letters warn recipients that they have just 10 days – from the date the letter was written – to notify AtW that they still need support, or it will be taken away.
The letters provide yet more evidence of a government clampdown on AtW, which provides funding for adaptations, equipment and ongoing support at work.
During the review, AtW recipients are being asked whether the assistance provided by support workers or personal assistants (PAs) could instead be carried out by “family and friends”.
AtW staff are also demanding PAs’ telephone numbers so they can carry out anti-fraud spot checks.
The letters have horrified disabled AtW claimants, many of whom have relied on the scheme for years to pay for the support they need to stay in work.
Rachel Purtell, from Exeter, who has received AtW funding for more than 10 years, said she was “really angry” when she received one of the “hostile” and “threatening” letters last month.
She said: “It is just outrageous. The government says it wants all these disabled people off benefits and into work, but then introduces policies that will rip the heart out of the support system.”
She said she could not carry out her job, working four days a week, without support from AtW.
She added: “This new review system is draconian, insulting and counter-productive. It will not ensure people are getting the right support, but will simply add to the pressure and stress for working disabled people and therefore increase the likelihood of us going on to ‘out of work’ or ‘unable to work’ benefits.
“It demonises yet another group of people that need support at a time when the very same government says it wants more disabled people in work. It is utterly incoherent as a policy.”
A DWP spokesman said: “We are following the usual process of sending out letters to people to undertake a yearly review of their application, to ensure that they still need the support provided and that the help they are receiving still meets their need.”
He added: “We have a duty to ensure that people are made aware that if they do not contact us, then we may not be able to continue the AtW support.”
But he declined to comment on whether the 10-day deadline was appropriate.
Government figures released last month showed a dramatic slump in the number of “new customers” helped by AtW, from 16,520 to 13,240 in 2010-11.
25 August 2011