Disabled campaigners have criticised the decision to award an OBE to the senior Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servant responsible for delivering the much-criticised Access to Work (AtW) scheme.
Rilesh Jadeja, AtW’s national delivery manager, was recognised in the latest new year’s honours “for services to people with disabilities”, just two months after new research found the future of the scheme was in jeopardy because of “bureaucratic incompetence” and a cost-cutting drive to reduce people’s support packages.
The research, commissioned by Inclusion London, said that “shocking levels of delay, error, and the de-skilling of staff” within AtW were putting Deaf and disabled people’s jobs at risk.
AtW provides disabled people with funding to pay for some of the extra disability-related expenses they face at work – including travel, personal assistants or the use of BSL interpreters – reducing the costs organisations meet when taking on disabled employees.
The Inclusion London report said 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”.
Jadeja’s award also came only three weeks after a Deaf chief executive launched a legal case against DWP over the “discriminatory” cap it has imposed on the amount of support available through AtW.
The cap was introduced for new AtW claimants in 2015 and is due to affect existing claimants from April.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “This award is as farcical as the DWP twitter asking about what DWP has done for claimants over the last 12months*.
“Given the many serious issues outstanding with cuts to Access to Work funding, which have seriously disadvantaged many disabled people and actively prevented them accessing employment, it can only be described as a further slap in the face.
“It does of course show just how meaningless such awards actually are.”
Nicky Evans and Geraldine O’Halloran, from the StopChanges2AtW campaign, said: “SC2AtW strongly condemn the whole system of rewarding someone who has been paid to do a job an additional award which is not based on any achievement, and to make matters worse, under the guise of services to disabled people.
“Services have, under this government, got progressively worse for Deaf and disabled people.
“We would have preferred to be saying ‘well done’ to DWP for delivering a fully supported Access to Work service to Deaf and disabled employees.
“Instead we have record number of Deaf and disabled people experiencing cuts to budgets and this is impacting on their ability to get on with their job. The government continue to ignore our plight.”
Asked how DWP justified recommending Jadeja for the award, a DWP spokesman said: “Honours – like this one given to Mr Jadeja – are awarded to individuals on merit for their own exceptional achievement or service.
“It’s important to note that honours are backed by independent honours committees.”
*DWP’s Twitter feed drew hundreds of angry and critical responses when it announced last week that it was “looking back at some of our highlights of 2017”, with many disabled people pointing to its failure to point out that it had been heavily criticised by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities over its record.