From the TUC

Statistics, lies and Access to Work

24 Mar 2015, by in Equality

Mark Harper, MP, minister for disabled people announced (23 March) a commitment by government to helping disabled people in work or into work who need adjustments or support to enable them to carry out their jobs. The Access to Work (AtW) scheme has been providing this support for many years and now it is being reformed to increase the number of disabled people who can be supported.

The administration of the scheme is also being improved and more help will be offered to disabled people to set up their own businesses. The obstacles that prevent disabled people with mental health conditions from getting work will be addressed by special measures. It’s all good news in the best of all possible worlds as new jobs are created and employers are giving opportunities to hundreds of disabled people every day, as the minister announced triumphantly just last week (although in truth only in the same proportion as non-disabled people moving into work).

Everyone welcomes increases in the numbers of people helped into work by AtW and no one can complain about improved administration. But behind the happy clappy world presented by the DWP press release lurk some harder truths.

First: when the government forced closure of the Remploy factories four years ago (half of the workers are still without jobs) they accepted the recommendations of the report by Liz Sayce, of Disability Rights UK, which argued that the money for Remploy should be put into AtW. Since 2012, AtW funding has increased by £15 million. Support for Remploy ran at £111 million per year. Why isn’t the rest of it supporting a serious expansion of AtW?

Second, the minister points to the increase in numbers supported by AtW from 31,000 to 35,000 between 2012/13 and 2013/14. What he didn’t say was that AtW had funded 37,000 people in 2009-10 and 35,000 in 2010-11(DWP figures). This is no more than a recovery to levels previously seen five years ago.

The TUC last year gathered examples of people reliant on AtW facing chaos and delays following the government decision to close regional AtW centres and get rid of expert staff. Workers couldn’t get responses and faced long delays in payment, others risked losing jobs because the agreed adjustments had been delayed. So “reform” of administration was needed because of a mess created by the government itself.

The big threat by the minister is to workers with high support needs. Skilled professionals only able to function because AtW paid for sign language interpreters will face a cap on how much they can claim. Having previously ham-fistedly tried to restrict costs by limiting support to 30 hours a week, then abandoning this after the outcry, they’ll achieve it a different way. What are the workers to do if AtW won’t cover the cost of the support they need? Sign language interpreters too are affected – they are skilled professionals, and their livings are now put at risk. A survey of interpreters many now thinking of abandoning their profession. This will be a disaster for deaf people and it will have been caused by government policy.

The real background to Mark Harper MP’s announcement is that government wants more for less. The outcome for disabled workers with high support costs can only be bad. The right solution is to increase the budget (a measly £108 million) because the government receives more back in tax and NI than the scheme costs. Maybe ministers need lessons in simple economics.

2 Responses to Statistics, lies and Access to Work

  1. bombasticspastic
    Mar 24th 2015, 6:30 pm

    Peter, Residential Training Courses accounted for another £18 M in 2009-10. Thus, the government made a saving, in one year, of almost £130 M yet pumped a derisory £5 M per annum over three years into its ‘flagship’ scheme for assisting disabled people in the workplace.

    This from a government that was on the side of disabled people; who insisted it would make work pay for disabled people. Imagine the mayhem they’d have caused if they became our enemy!

  2. bombasticspastic
    Mar 24th 2015, 6:31 pm

    By the way, thanks for this excellent piece, Peter.