This post is written by Berni Vincent, SCIL’s Development Lead.
Access to Work (ATW), the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) scheme that provides funding to enable Disabled People to meet the cost of employing support work assistants is under serious threat from government spending cuts.
Despite government’s stated commitment to increase the number of Disabled People in employment, figures recently published by DWP confirm that there has been a fall in the number of Disabled People receiving ATW support, from 37,720 in 2009-10 to 35,830 last year. Furthermore, the number of successful new claimants has dropped sharply from 16,520 in 2009-10 to 13,240 last year.
Disabled People are facing tighter eligibility criteria, excessive scrutiny and questioning, which more often than not results in reduction in funding with little or no room for negotiation.
There is no indication to suggest that consideration is being given to the impact such cuts, restrictions, and scrutiny is having on the health and wellbeing of Disabled People, who without support will be unable to work. There is little concern shown about the frustration caused to Disabled People who find they are unable to meet their support needs in the workplace, in a flexible, responsive way.
Similarly, there seems little acknowledgement from the DWP of the time lost in productivity, responding to emails and dealing with paper work – a bureaucratic burden that many small organisations cannot afford.
Just 2 weeks ago, it was revealed that Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), has been told he was not eligible for funding from the Access to Work (ATW) scheme because he has such a senior position.
Jaspal Dhani, a wheelchair-user, said: “I am a disabled person in full-time work and with an identified need for a support worker. If I cannot get the support I need from ATW, then I risk losing my job.”
More recently Disabled People using ATW funding have been informed that in future, ‘due to vehicle licensing regulations’, it will no longer be possible for support work assistants to drive their own vehicles to provide transport.
Amazingly, this is just as the Department of Transport has released guidance to try and avoid Disabled People getting caught up in unnecessary bureaucratic licensing regulations. Essex Coalition of Disabled People have produced an excellent report on the situation which outlines clearly the huge effect this policy change by Access to Work will have on many Disabled workers.
Disabled People recently informed of changes have said the following:
“I was shocked by the way I was informed that my driver would no longer be able to drive his car to meet my needs for transport support’. This new rule was just casually dropped into the conversation without warning”.
“I was informed that my mileage allowance for travel to work would be dropped. There was no room for negotiation. The ATW adviser tried to help but there was little he could do.”
“When telephoning ATW to discuss/request additional support needs, the adviser was very dismissive – I felt as though he thought that I was lying about the extra support that I need.”
ATW has been an effective and meaningful programme that has enabled Disabled People to maintain their ability to work effectively. Without support of this kind, many Disabled People will no longer be able to stay in employment and their support work assistants will be without work – all of which puts further strain on the economy and robs the “national workplace” of valuable human capital.
Nevertheless, and despite the current difficulties, I hope DWP/ATW will make time to not only consult but co-productively meet and engage with Disabled People and our organisations, so that together we can find solutions and increase the number of Disabled People in gainful employment.