A disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has launched a pioneering new social enterprise that will make it easier for disabled people to secure personal assistants to support them at work.
James Gasarah, a business development and partnership lead for Breakthrough, said EqualEdge would bring “transformation” and “solve real issues in the lives of disabled people”.
The agency will target people who rely on funding for a personal assistant (PA) from the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme – although it is open to those with funding from other sources – and will allow them to recruit vetted and trained PAs who can provide administrative or professional support.
The latest figures (see table seven) published by the Department for Work and Pensions show that more than 12,000 disabled people received funding through AtW to pay for a workplace support worker in 2022-23.
As well as offering a website that allows disabled people to find a workplace PA, EqualEdge will also provide training to PAs, manage payroll services, and offer a new tool that allows disabled people to check their eligibility for AtW.
Gasarah said they had also been in discussions with AtW about how to secure quicker access to funding for disabled people who use EqualEdge, which would allow them to offer their customers an “expedited service”.
Breakthrough’s chair, David Coulter, told an online launch event on Tuesday: “What’s really exciting is that this social enterprise isn’t just about filling a void in the market, it’s an extension of Breakthrough UK’s mission to support disabled people in finding meaningful work [and] it creates a new source of income for Breakthrough.”
EqualEdge is initially available only to disabled people in Manchester and London, although Breakthrough hopes to expand across the UK.
Richard Currie, a former Breakthrough trustee, told the launch event how important workplace PAs have been in supporting him in his work as a PhD research student, including by supporting him to navigate the public transport system.
He said this has enabled him “to focus on important issues such as delivering on a presentation” or carrying out library research.
He said: “I think also that what the work-based personal assistant has allowed me to do is be effective with my time during a work day.”
He added: “The right PA with the right values really can make a difference.
“That’s one of the key aspects that really attracted me to the idea of EqualEdge.
“It’s the idea of matching people with the right skills to the right needs around supporting people to help survive and thrive in the workplace.
“Because from my experience thus far, gaining the right PA with the right skillset has been more through luck than judgement.”
Asked by Disability News Service why this was the first time such a project had been launched, Brian Burgon, another business development and partnership lead for Breakthrough, said it had been “daunting” and suggested it had been difficult to offer such a service “at scale” but that Breakthrough had seen “the vision”.
He said EqualEdge’s target customers would include disabled people entering the workforce for the first time, those already employed who are now seeking additional support, those who are unemployed and not yet receiving Access to Work, disabled people “actively searching for employment opportunities”, self-employed disabled people, apprentices, and those who need “additional support while starting a new job, in the form of a job coach”.
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