The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has declined to welcome its own figures which show a huge increase in spending on the Access to Work disability employment scheme.
The new figures show spending of more than £180 million in 2022-23, more than £30 million higher than 2021-22, which itself was the highest spending on record.
They also show that real terms spending increased by 15 per cent on 2021-22, and is now more than £20 million higher than the previous highest real terms spending level before the pandemic.
The minister for disabled people, Tom Pursglove, spoke briefly about the importance of the Access to Work scheme at a fringe event at the Conservative party conference on Monday, but failed to mention the new figures.
He also mentioned Access to Work at another fringe event the next day, and again failed to mention the significant increase in spending.
The number of disabled people who received some kind of Access to Work (AtW) provision rose by nearly a quarter (23 per cent) to 47,230 in the year to 2022-23, although about 14,000 of those people only received a payment for an assessment.
The remaining 33,000 receiving a payment to provide an element of AtW provision – such as aids and equipment, help with the cost of travelling to work and adaptations to work premises – again the highest number on record.
And the number of people who had an assessment rose by nearly half (48 per cent), compared to 2021-22.
The number of disabled people who received an Access to Work payment for a support worker rose by 14 per cent on the year to more than 12,000.
There were also significant increases in the number of disabled people receiving an AtW payment for mental health support (a nine per cent rise) and travel to work (a 28 per cent rise).
Despite the successful expansion of the scheme, there are still significant waiting-times for disabled people waiting for a decision on their AtW claim, with unpublished figures released to Disability News Service (DNS) in July showing there were still more than 23,000 disabled people waiting for their claim to be dealt with.
That had fallen to just under 22,000 by 5 September.
But despite the government’s apparent success in expanding the scheme, a DWP spokesperson declined to welcome the figures when approached by DNS.
Asked why the figures had risen so sharply, and whether ministers welcomed the increase, a spokesperson said: “Our Access to Work grants are available to disabled employees to cover the additional costs of in-work adjustments and we are recruiting new staff to meet increased demand for the scheme.
“Our extensive wraparound will support disabled people to sustain employment in the long term.”
They also said: “We are committed to supporting disabled people who want to work to do so, and latest figures show disability employment has risen by a total of 1.6 million since 2017.”
DWP and ministers have been told repeatedly that these disability employment figures are deeply misleading.
Government figures released in January found that 60 per cent of the increase in disabled people in employment was simply due to a sharp rise in the number of people identifying as disabled.
Those figures estimated that only 15 per cent of the increase in disabled people in work was due to a narrowing in the disability employment gap – the difference in the proportion of disabled and non-disabled people in jobs.
But DWP also admitted to DNS that it could not prove that even this small proportion of the increase was due to government policies.
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