Last week, campaigners became aware that from 14 August Access to Work (AtW) was closing cases for Deaf and disabled workers still on furlough. What this means is that when furlough ends, any workers who need AtW to return to work will have to re-apply for their support package. This will increase the burden on Deaf and disabled workers on top of the many other barriers they face to staying in employment. There is no obvious reason why the Department for Work and Pensions should have to close rather than pause their furloughed caseload. We can only assume this is a cynical attempt to save money by making it more difficult for workers to claim support from AtW in the hopes that some will simply give up. Once again, we see the government stacking the decks against Deaf and disabled workers and exposing the emptiness of their rhetoric about wanting to help Deaf and disabled people into employment.
This is also just the latest example of problems with AtW that have been experienced since Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown.
StopChanges2AtW wants to hear any and all examples of difficulties with AtW since 1stMarch 2020 that you’ve experienced since early March 2020. These could have negatively affected Deaf and disabled workers as well as interpreters or Personal Assistants paid through AtW.
Please email or send BSL videos to StopChanges2AtW@gmail.com.
We will keep all examples we receive anonymous and use them to produce a mini report which we can use to raise awareness of the types of problems people have faced and to campaign for improvements.
Linda Burnip from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) is asking for your help with a legal challenge around not being able to take someone to hospital with you if admitted. This will particularly affect Deaf/BSL users and Deaf/blind people who need accessible communication support. For us the difficulty will be with NHS staff using masks and other face protectors. Whilst we know this is keeping us safe, it can mean limited or no clear communication when we really need to know what is happening.
Linda is supporting a young woman working with lawyers to try and get the visitor policy changed. What will help is if anyone has experienced/or a view about this could you let her know. You could start by saying…”This would effect me because….. If you can help send your comments direct to Linda Burnip at email@example.com.
They will be passed onto the young woman and her solicitor Chris Fry from Fry Law. This will not involve you in anything further concerned with the case.
We have been contacted about a government website link being shared that states: “The Access to Work scheme will be suspended”. https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/landing-pages/covid-19-and-benefits
Marsha De Cordova MP has raised this with the Minister and it was confirmed that Access to Work is continuing as normal. Please note that the link being shared is the Northern Ireland (NI) government website and does not relate to the UK.
The Department for Communities in NI has now clarified that:‘Only face to face appointments that relate to Access to Work have been temporarily suspended in line with other similar Department duties. Payments to participants on the programme will continue to be processed by staff and contingencies have been put in place to ensure this continues. The programme works with a number of key stakeholders who provide support to Access to Work participants and as such, this may change the level of support available to all participants in the future due to the current COVID-19 situation. The department is working with key stakeholders and will monitor the situation and ensure communications are updated during this challenging period.’
Many thanks to John McDonnell MP, Debbie Abrahams MP and John Pring (Disability News Service) for their help in clarifying this.
(*Sarah Newton and Amber Rudd are not included in this list as they are not standing to be an MP in GE2019)
- 30 hour rule (an attempt to force AtW users to employ support staff if they used 30+ hours of support a week), limiting choice and control – employers wanting to offer a disabled person a job would have to employ two people!
- Non Communication days – asking Deaf BSL users to work without support for one day a week, isolated from colleagues.
- Closing Remploy factories and NOT investing the money saved in disabled people as promised.
- Cap to access to work (limiting the amount awarded to individuals, disproportionately impacting disabled people with high support needs and BSL users).
- Job redesign – contacting disabled people’s managers and asking that their jobs are changed to limited the amount of support needed. Undermining disabled people’s skills and right to work in their chosen careers.
We have had to begin a judicial review and take court proceedings to stop many of the above changes being introduced.
Louise Whitfield, the solicitor from Deighton Pierce Glynn who took the legal challenge explained; “It is clear from the timing and the sequence of events that the legal challenge to the cap forced the Government to have a re-think about where to set the cap. The further analysis and cap increase was in direct response to the evidence presented by disabled people, and the legal submissions made to the court within the JR, on their behalf.”
Fraud is a problem for any financial scheme. But whereas all other financial institutions have taken steps to use the latest technology to improve and safeguard themselves against this, the government are still using a paper based form established in the 90’s. They have a responsibility to safeguard public funds.
3 must reads that show why our recommendations that we made in our Barriers to Work report (published October 2017) are needed:
1. The first is today’s @Limping_Chicken blog. This piece was written anonymously by someone who has seen the impact of AtW fraud first hand. An extract from the piece:
There is a way to make sure fraud on this scale does not happen again and that other people do not have to go through the same experience. For this to happen, Access to Work must take some responsibility for their role in a number of fraud cases and make changes.
Access to Work is there to provide the right support for disabled and deaf people to get into work and make successful careers.
Deaf people use BSL/English interpreters and the appropriate invoice has to be submitted by the interpreter on completion of their work, with necessary details, such as their registration number, address, hours worked and fee.
However, in this recent case, a number of fraudulent invoices were submitted to Access to Work. They were fictitious. The money obtained fraudulently was being used to pay for the salaries of Deaf employees.
Once you apply for Access to Work and have your funding agreed, often the Access to Work team ask you for the names of the interpreters you want to work with you, along with a quote for their services.
There did not seem to be a process in place where Access to Work actually checked that the people Deaf people were using were actually interpreters, which meant false names and details were easily given.
How could the Access to Work team allow for the option for payments to be made directly to the Deaf person or the employer? Why is this option included when Access to Work know that historically is has been open to abuse?
There’s a simple solution – remove this option and make payment to the interpreters directly.
Come on, something needs to be done. The Department of Work and Pensions need to ensure that Deaf users of Access to Work fully understand how the system works, that the funding is for their communication needs and not as revenue to pay for their employees’ salaries.
2. The second is the blog #InterpretingSigns from two years ago. Again this places some of the blame for AtW fraud at the governments feet. An extract from the piece:
Here is a system that isn’t accessible (to an extent that the end customer (the Deaf Access to Work user) can’t always understand the forms and needs support completing these), relies heavily on the customer to do the bulk of the administration and where any contact with the DWP has become so stressful that they feel unable to ask for support or advice when needed.
Having been involved in Access to Work campaigning in various guises over the years, I have been continually frustrated by the DWP’s lack of response to our concerns over fraud. I have attended meetings over the past three years with various senior DWP staff/Ministers and have fed back the concerns of both the deaf community and interpreters. Information being provided by advisors is continually inconsistent and interpreters who work for three different clients could be paid using three different processes.
3. And finally a piece by Deaf AtW. @BATOD_UK had to ask #DeafAtW to produce an accessible AtW guide for school leavers! What an absurd situation, when we are having to rely on our own resources to try to inform our community about a government scheme!
This shows the extent to wish the government are failing us.
The guide can be read here: https://www.deafatw.com/updates.html
Each of these, show why our recommendations are needed. We have asked that:
5. Introduce digital systems to improve delays, reduce inefficiencies and tackle fraud
5.1 An online claims system for AtW would protect both customers and support staff from fraudulent activity and reduce the rate of delays due to missing forms.
5.2 Online payment processing would reduce delays and incidences of payments missing in the post.
The full list of our recommendations can be read here: https://stopchanges2atw.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/accesstoworkrecommendations_web.pdf
Today’s judgment in the Access to Work case, dismissing the legal challenge against the cap brought by David Buxton, highlights the limitations of our equalities legislation. Mr Justice Kerr found that sufficient “due regard” had been paid by the Secretary of State as to the impact on Deaf BSL users of introducing the cap and ruled that the Access to Work cap is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” and said it succeeds in striking a balance “between potential new low cost award recipients, for whom money will be freed up, and existing high cost award recipients, who must perforce forego some of the available funds to provide the money to spend on achieving the government’s aims”; he points out that there is nothing in equalities legislation that prevents the Secretary of State from “giv[ing] with one hand and tak[ing] with the other”. The judgment highlights the fragility of our rights protections whereby government can decide to implement measures that discriminate and curtail the equalities of Deaf and Disabled people so long as they prove they have considered the impacts and cite funding constraints. It also fails to give any weight to our concerns about the impact of the glass ceiling that the cap sets for Deaf BSL users and wider social impacts on inequality. Frustratingly Stopchanges2AtW is all too aware of the barriers and problems experienced by Deaf and Disabled people in the “low cost award” category which were outside the scope of the case: the real picture is not one where there exists a group of people with lower cost support needs who have benefited or will benefit by restricting the employment opportunities for Deaf BSL users in the straightforward manner presented by the DWP. Access to Work customers on those “low awards” frequently tell us that a cap exists for them too which makes it difficult to stay in work after their six month limited awards end or there is enforced tapering of their support.
Other disappointing aspects of the judgment include the lack of any suggestion that the government has a responsibility to carry out research into the financial benefits of investing in Access to Work. One of the DWP’s main lines of defence is that the Access to Work is finite and therefore they need to find ways of making savings in order to make the budget go further. In court they disputed the figures used in the 2011 Sayce review which found that there is a net return to the Treasury of £1.48 for every pound invested in Access to Work yet failed to explain why the government has still to date produced no up-to-date figures despite telling the Work and Pensions Committee that this work was underway in 2015. We would also have liked to see some questioning of how the DWP have calculated the cap which we have always viewed as an arbitrary figure. During the court case the claimant’s barrister stressed that problems with using calculating the cap based on a day rate for BSL interpretation of £250 per day. The judgment is content with this, citing how it “closely corresponds to the figure of £260 for a full day of BSL interpretation, according to the suggested rates published by the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI), for London and the south east”. However, the NUBSLI rates are guidance on “minimum” fees and point out that more specialist work, evening or weekend work will be at a higher rate. Within the hearing it was established that market conditions for BSLi with demand far out-stripping supply mean that interpreting costs can exceed these minimum fees. The judge also rejected the claimants arguments that the DWP could have carried out a more thorough evaluation of the likely impact of the cap through assessing information it has holds about the Access to Work customers affected. StopChanges2AtW continues to maintain the relevance of what sector we work in with employers in the voluntary or public sector less likely to be able to make contributions to support costs. The greater the burden on the Deaf or Disabled employee to argue for reasonable adjustments from their employer, the more unbearable it can become to stay in work and we hear many stories of workers who have left employment or taken demotions because they can no longer manage the strain with work becoming entirely focused on how to meet their support needs rather than doing their jobs.
There is no question that the legal challenge which was issued in December 2017 was what prompted the increase in the cap from £43,100 to £57,200 and mitigating measures for Disabled people with multiple needs, announced in March 2018. David Buxton is to be congratulated on taking bold action that will benefit hundreds of Deaf and Disabled workers while preventing the obliteration of Deaf BSL users in senior roles. However, as today’s judgment confirms, there is far more to do in the fight for the rights of Deaf and Disabled people to work on an equal basis with others in line with Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The announcement last week by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions of a new fund within Access to Work for “supported businesses” raises suspicion about the government’s willingness to dispense with equality and inclusion in order to get as many Deaf and Disabled people as possible off out of work benefits. This is therefore a time when it is more important than ever that Deaf and Disabled people stay united and continue to push for greater equality and employment rights.
If there is one report you need to read this month or even this year – this is the one: A Dossier of disgrace
Geraldine O’Halloran, Co-founder of StopChanges2AtW gives us her view on the recently published “Dossier of disgrace” by the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI).
If there is one report you need to read this month or even this year – this is the one. More importantly, if, like me, you are a Deaf BSL user and a regular user of English/Interpreting support – then even more so.
For me, my main reaction after reading it was one of shock, what was shocking to me, was how little I knew about what was happening in the background to the communication support that I rely on every day. For work, to access to health/medical appointments, attending meetings, and for those social occasions like, talks at museums and art galleries and the like.
This report highlights several areas which Deaf/BSL users need to be concerned about. In short, the National Framework Agreement (NFA) is a business model for the interpreting agencies being awarded contracts. What the findings in this report highlight is it is unsustainable for BSL/English interpreters and Deaf customers that they have repeatedly been let down and have lost any choice and control over the support they need and the interpreters they wish to use. This means in future Deaf/BSL users like you and me, will have no control over who we want to book. Even more worrying is that there is evidence that untrained or under qualified communication support are going on bookings where their level of skill is not matched to the job. For example, court interpreting that requires a high level of skill and there is evidence that inexperienced interpreters and unqualified communication support are being sent to do this work. The same is for Child and Adult safeguarding work. People like you and me weren’t consulted about this – we weren’t invited to the consultation. The government never asked us what we thought of this NFA or even if we wanted these changes.
The worrying thing is skilled and experienced interpreters are leaving the profession for a whole range of reasons – they are experiencing pay cuts, demanded to work with unskilled communication support – putting their professional integrity on the line, the list goes on.
The report highlights what the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI) have been trying to do the ensure that the standards of communication support we need remain high and meets our needs. We need to make sure we are in control of our communication support and back what NUBSLI are doing here.
There is a BSL version that provides clear information about the key areas of the report. If you value the BSL/English interpreting support, you receive every day – then read this report.
Royal Courts of Justice: 9.30am Tuesday 26 June 2018
Join us at the high court on 26 June to show support and solidarity to the claimant taking the legal case against the government’s decision to cap Access to Work. Although the cap largely affects Deaf BSL users, Disabled people from all impairment groups have suffered through changes to the Access to Work disability employment support scheme that have made it harder and harder to get into and stay in work. The government announcement earlier this year raising the cap does not address the issue that any form of cap discriminates against Deaf and Disabled people with high support needs and while the measures announced promise to improve certain issues with the scheme, many other issues remain a problem.
We are calling on all those affected by and worried about the cap and about Access to Work in general to join us at the high court for a vigil outside from 9.30 – 10am and then in the court room for the hearing itself. There will be BSL interpretation for the proceedings.
For more information on the legal challenge:
Friday 8 June 2018; 6 – 8pm;
WeAre336 Brixton Road, SW9 7AA
While the measures announced by the government concerning the increase in the Access to Work cap are welcome, there remain a number of serious issues with Access to Work that have not been addressed and which continue to jeopardise Deaf and Disabled people’s employment.
This meeting will be a chance to share current experiences with Access to Work, plan the next steps in our campaign to improve the scheme and agree the key recommendations for us to focus on following the publication of our research and recommendations in Parliament in October last year.
If you would like to attend the meeting please email Ellen.firstname.lastname@example.org with information about any access and communication support needs.