Two of the government’s flagship disability employment schemes have been heavily criticised by a pair of disabled campaigners in a parliamentary evidence session.
The Commons work and pensions committee was hearing evidence for its inquiry into the disability employment gap, the difference between the proportions of disabled people and non-disabled people in work.
Among those giving evidence yesterday (Wednesday) were Fazilet Hadi, head of policy for Disability Rights UK, and James Taylor, executive director of strategy, impact and social change for the disability charity Scope.
Hadi (pictured giving evidence) told the committee that she loved the Access to Work (AtW) scheme – which funds workplace adjustments such as support workers and travel costs – and could not have worked without it.
But she said she hated the way it was run.
She said that securing support from AtW had felt like a “battle” in recent years, “as if I have to prove something, like I’m not the expert, apparently, on my needs”.
And she said that disabled people were often “just brow-beaten” by DWP civil servants working on AtW.
She said: “There’s a sort of feeling that you’re trying to get something you’re not entitled to.
“There are far too many forms, there’s far too much bureaucracy, they are not quick, they haven’t moved with the times.
“I have got really nothing to say in terms of praise for the way it is administered.”
She added: “I don’t know if it’s an attitudinal thing or a managerial thing, but the impact for a disabled person is that it makes a good scheme difficult.”
Hadi said she had heard of employers “walking away” from the scheme.
She said: “Some of us want to work for small employers and Access to Work would be vital because we want to come to that as equal members of the staff group, not with the employer thinking we cost more.”
But she said there was a sense from AtW that disabled people were “taking the piss” and “that you’re not being truthful and that you don’t know about your own needs.
“I have been using AtW for 30 years so I think I know what I need from it.”
Later in the session, Taylor was critical of the government’s Disability Confident scheme.
The much-criticised scheme aims to encourage employers to “think differently about disability and take action to improve how they recruit, retain and develop disabled people”.
But Disability News Service revealed earlier this month that DWP had announced that the personal independence payment section of its contractor Capita had been awarded membership of the top level of the Disability Confident scheme just as a coroner was implicating the company in the decision of a young disabled mum to take her own life.
Taylor told the committee yesterday that while Disability Confident was a “very good scheme at… promoting disabled people in the workplace, it has actually had a very limited impact on the number of disabled people in work.”
He said the scheme had been viewed as “too reliant” on self-assessments by employers of “how well they are actually doing at employing disabled people”.
And he said that anecdotal evidence Scope had heard from disabled people working for Disability Confident employers “has suggested that their employers have not been particularly supportive of them, despite being signed up to the Disability Confident scheme”.
Earlier in the evidence session, Hadi told the committee that she was growing “quite tired of [DWP] saying they don’t know what works” when it comes to disability employment.
She said: “We are in 2021 now and they have had an awful long time to find out what works.”
She said it was not “rocket science”, and that what worked was providing disabled people with personalised support and providing it quickly.
She said: “I don’t really know what they are waiting to find out.
“I think we do know what works and if they talked to disabled people, if they had personalised support, they would see the results.
“It desperately needs more funding and then things will work.”
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