A record number of disabled people received employment-related support through the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme last year, new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures have revealed.
It is also the first time that spending on AtW has exceeded the amount spent on the programme in 2010, the year the Conservative-led coalition government assumed power and embarked on a decade of cuts and reforms in the name of austerity.
The scheme funds workplace adjustments for disabled people such as support workers, travel costs and aids and equipment.
Until 2018-19 (£129 million), spending on AtW had been lower every year in real terms than in 2010-11 (£122 million), and it fell as low as £103 million in 2015-16*.
More than 36,000 disabled people received an AtW grant last year, an increase of more than 2,000 on the previous year.
Under the Conservative-led coalition, the number receiving AtW payments fell from a peak of 32,810 in 2010-11 to just 26,460 the following year.
The DWP press release announcing the statistics quoted two disabled employees of Lloyds Banking Group, who both receive support through AtW.
One of them, Ross, a wheelchair-user who has a support worker paid for by AtW, said: “Access to Work has made a massive difference to my life.
“Without it, I wouldn’t have a job. I probably wouldn’t be earning a living, I wouldn’t own my own home, I wouldn’t be able to go on holidays and I wouldn’t be able to follow the hobbies that interest me because I wouldn’t be able to be employed.
“It makes a massive, massive difference to me.”
Another Lloyds employee, Louis, who is visually-impaired, receives AtW support for taxi fares for him and his guide dog to travel to and from work.
He said: “Access to Work is that key enabler which allows businesses to be as inclusive as they want to be.”
Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said: “Having a disability or health condition must not be a barrier to enjoying a fulfilling career – and the support available means there’s no excuse for employers who refuse to be inclusive.
“Access to Work removes the obstacles facing disabled people in the workplace, helping to level the playing field and ensure businesses don’t see employing disabled people as a burden.
“With more disabled people than ever before supported through Access to Work, thousands more employers across the country are benefitting from the skills disabled people bring to the workplace.”
Disabled campaigners have repeatedly highlighted the benefits of AtW and have even branded it “a cornerstone of the movement for equality and civil rights for Deaf and disabled people in the UK”.
But they have also highlighted concerns about delays and errors in dealing with claims, and the cap on annual payments (originally set at £42,500 but later increased to £57,200), which they say has had a disproportionate impact on the job and career prospects of Deaf users of British Sign Language and other disabled people with high support needs.
*These are real terms figures at 2018-19 prices, so as to remove the effect of inflation over time
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