Monthly Archives: December 2014

Campaign highlights from 2014.

The #stopchanges2atw group have been extremely busy over the past year. A lot has happened and there is a lot of work which we are enormously proud of. We thought we’d share a few of the key moments of the campaign and also what’s happened with AtW to remind you how far we’ve come.

TOM WATSON MP BLOGS

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Tom Watson, described by Limping Chicken as a “Labour Big Beast”, shows support for our campaign. We were very grateful for Tom’s support which got attention for our campaign and also, more importantly, raised awareness about the issue and what was happening within AtW.

JENNY SEALEY JOINS US
We we’re delighted that Jenny Sealey joined the campaign and became our spokesperson. Jenny is hugely respected, and has experienced cuts not only to her own support, but has seen other people’s budgets cut too. Having witnessed the impact these changes were having across the community, Jenny was therefore the perfect person to represent the campaign.

TERESA PEARCE MP SUPPORTS US
We were extremely pleased to have the support of Teresa Pearce, a member of the Work & Pension Select Committee. Teresa has worked tirelessly on the issue of Access to Work and we can’t thank her enough for everything she has done.

PETITION REACHES 5,000!
A milestone which we were very pleased to reach. We are continuing with the petition and are about to reach the 7,000 mark!

CAMPAIGN VIDEOS
We released a series of campaign videos to raise awareness for our campaign. There were nine videos, showing how different people were being affected.

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WORK & PENSION SELECT COMMITTEE ANNOUNCE INQUIRY
On 12th May the WPSC announced they would be launching an inquiry into AtW. We began supporting as many people as possible to make submissions and along with others, raised the issue of access to the committee clerk, enabling submissions in BSL. This was the first time that an inquiry had been made BSL accessible in this way which in itself was a significant moment.

30 HOUR RULE SUSPENDED
On 14th May the then Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning, announced the suspension of the 30 hour rule and a review into AtW. This review was to last three months, however, it is still ongoing and we are not expecting to see anything until the new year.

PHSO COMPLAINTS
Alongside our work, DeafAtW have been guiding people through the Obudsman process. We see this as an alternative route to challenge what is happening with AtW. This is an important piece of work which we have been supporting wherever possible.

LEIGH DAY – FIGHTING FUND
We have been working with Leigh Day, the human rights law firm, over Access to Work for some time & have now had two successful outcomes. The first case we tried to take was settled, and the individual named had their AtW support fully reinstated. In the second case, we asked that the AtW guidance be published as we believed to not have this in the public domain was unlawful. This has now been acted on. We are very grateful to Leigh Day for all their work and support. In Particular we would like to thank Ugo Hayter and Richard Stein. We now have a fighting fund of £3,000 and are in a strong position to be able to make legal challenges where deemed necessary. We are continuing to communicate with Leigh Day and will look at any next steps needed in the new year.

WPSC INQUIRY
The inquiry receives a record number of submissions (over 300) and holds a series of four evidence sessions. The report is published before Christmas and is welcomed by the campaign, including all the issues we have raised.

THANK YOU’S:

Our supporters:

Teresa Pearce MP, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Inclusion London, DeafAtW, Graeae Theatre Company, NUBSLI.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the following people/organisations:

The Limping Chicken.
Ian W Gouldstone.

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Government makes Access to Work Scheme guidance public following challenge by law firm

Please see below from Leigh Day. Item published on their website.

22 December 2014

The Department of Work and Pensions has agreed to publish their guidance on the Access to Work Scheme (AtW) after receiving a letter before claim from the law firm Leigh Day. The DWP have also confirmed that revised guidance is being produced and published, which they hope to commence by 30 March 2015.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the campaign group ‘Stop Changes to Access to Work’, highlighted in a letter before claim that the DWP had acted unlawfully in having no officially published guidance for the scheme, thus meaning that potential claimants did not know the criteria for eligibility or the rules that would be applied to their claims, claimants were also unaware when changes were made to the guidance and the nature of those changes.

The Access to Work Scheme is delivered by the DWP through Jobcentre Plus and is designed to help people with disabilities to overcome work related obstacles. This includes the provision of grants that fund practical support for people with a disability to start working, to stay in work, to start a business, or to become self-employed.

Within their letter before claim Leigh Day also addressed issues relating to the ‘30 hour rule’, which they described as an example of the ‘apparently inconsistent, unlawful and opaque’ way the AtW scheme has been applied by the DWP.

In June 2011, the guidance of AtW was changed so that those receiving over 30 hours of assistance from a support worker could only claim for this on the basis of an annual salary of up to £30,000, rather than for an hourly rate of an agency worker.

The ’30 hour rule’ was suspended in May 2014 as the AtW underwent review over a three month period.

As there was previously no published guidance any updates made to the 30-hour rule were unknown, leaving the public unaware of the current and future status of the ruling.

Lawyers at Leigh Day requested in their letter that the DWP revisited the AtW grants of all those affected by the ’30 hour rule’ and reinstated the funding that they were entitled to prior to its implementation.

However, the DWP responded by saying that they felt it was not appropriate to review every case which was subject to the 30 hour rule.

Ugo Hayter, a solicitor in the Human Rights department at Leigh Day who is representing the ‘Stop Changes to Access to Work’ group, said: “We welcome the Department of Work and Pension’s decision to publish their current guidance as well as their revised guidance in March 2015.

“Their previous failure to publish this vital information meant that public access to this was denied, which we believe was unlawful.

“We now urge for the issues raised in relation to the ‘30 hour rule’ to be re-considered as many people had their support by the Access to Work scheme arbitrarily cut or suspended through this rule, which put their employment and businesses at risk. We believe that this requires a full investigation and for action to be taken to reverse any outstanding cases where the 30 hour rule is still being applied.”

Ellen Clifford, on behalf of Stop Changes to Access to Work, said: “We are pleased by this victory and welcome the DWP announcing that they will publish guidance. This is a first step in the right direction in solving the numerous issues with the Access to Work scheme.

“However, the weaknesses in DWP’s administration of the programme are still prevalent, this is putting AtW users’ employment and their businesses at serious risk.

“We hope that the DWP will consult and communicate with AtW users; make consistent and lawful decisions and take urgent steps to reinstate the funding to which users were entitled prior to the imposition of the 30-rule.”

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

ENDS

The 30 hour rule was also subject to criticism to the Select Committee. Read their report here.

We are currently looking at the next steps which need to be taken, but are delighted by this response.

Share the report!

Please continue to share the Work & Pension Select Committee report, available here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmworpen/481/48102.htm

“Access to Work” – Government must do more to support disabled people in work

Access to Work (AtW) is a unique government programme which offers practical support to disabled people to help them stay in, or gain, employment. But it is helping only a minority of the people it could benefit, due to inadequate funding and a lack of awareness of the programme, says the Work and Pensions Select Committee in its report published today.

The Committee concludes that AtW is an important element of specialist employment support for disabled people but finds that Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) staff are often failing to understand the needs of disabled people.

The Committee also found that DWP’s recent rigid application of a “30 hour rule” for full-time “Support Workers”, and caps on the hourly rates of pay which it is willing to reimburse, has threatened the employability of deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users.

The report highlights weaknesses in DWP’s administration of the programme: a newly established central call centre was poorly implemented and does not currently meet the needs of many disabled service users; and a reliance on outmoded paper-based processes often leads to a slow and cumbersome service. The Committee concludes that DWP needs to consult and communicate with AtW service users about changes to the service much more effectively in the future.

DWP announced an internal departmental review of AtW in June 2014. The Committee’s Report is intended to inform that review, which the Committee hopes will lead to substantial improvements to the programme.

Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said:

“Access to Work should be a good news story for DWP. Where it works well, it transforms lives, allowing disabled people who might otherwise be excluded to participate in the world of work. But Access to Work’s modest budget risks an approach which seeks to boost the numbers helped by ATW by bearing down on the awards of people whose support needs happen to be high cost, including those who use BSL. Access to Work should be about removing barriers for the full range of disabled people who can benefit from the programme, including the relatively few whose support costs are high.

DWP needs to make a strong case to HM Treasury for substantial additional funding for Access to Work and then take steps to increase take-up by improving the programme’s marketing. The Government should promote Access to Work much more proactively and widely, to both employers and disabled people, including previously under-served groups such as young people trying to enter the labour market for the first time.

Only around 4% of people helped by Access to Work have mental health conditions. Given the well-known effects of mental health issues on employment in the UK, the number and proportion of people with these types of problems being helped by the programme is far too low. The DWP must do more to make it clearer that AtW is as relevant to people with mental health problems, and also learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders, as it is to people with physical and sensory disabilities.”

Funding for Access to Work

The 2011 Sayce Review of specialist employment support for disabled people included recommendations designed to lead to a doubling of the number of people helped by AtW. The number of people supported by the programme has increased in each of the last two full financial years, but remains below the peak of over 37,000 reached in 2009/10. AtW supported 35,450 people in 2013/14.

The Department has acknowledged that a doubling of the number of people supported by the programme would require a broadly commensurate increase in funding, but so far the Government has only announced (in 2012) an additional £15 million for AtW, an increase in funding of around 15%.

The Sayce Review recommended the phased closure or sale of Remploy’s factories, which had provided employment for some disabled people, with the savings released to be re-invested in “effective employment programmes” for disabled people, including AtW. But while the reorganisation of Remploy has been largely completed, the Committee notes that Access to Work has not yet seen a substantial increase in caseload or funding. DWP was not able to provide a clear indication as to how the savings from the closure of Remploy factories have been used to date, and the report calls for the Department to clarify this.

BSL—application of the “30 hour rule” is having a detrimental impact on deaf service users

The Committee received a substantial amount of evidence from deaf people who use AtW to fund the BSL interpretation they need to do their jobs. Deep concerns were expressed about the implementation of the so-called “30 hour rule” for “Support Workers”— DWP’s recent approach, in cases where 30 hours or more of support is required per week, of sometimes insisting that deaf people or their employers employ a single BSL interpreter on a salaried basis. In other cases it has capped the hourly rates at which it will reimburse BSL interpretation costs. Users reported that this has had a profoundly detrimental impact on their ability to source the effective BSL interpretation they need.

Dame Anne Begg MP said:

“DWP’s recent approach to BSL is highly regrettable and betrays a lack of understanding of the BSL interpreting market and how BSL is utilised by deaf people at work. The costs of BSL are relatively high but it would be unacceptable for DWP to try to control costs by targeting a particular group in a way which threatens people’s ability to stay in their jobs.

The Government has previously announced a temporary suspension of the “30 hour rule” but evidence suggests deaf people are continuing to face difficulties sourcing the BSL support they need. DWP must address the issue as a matter of urgency, and fulfil its commitment to review the cases of all deaf service users who believe they have been adversely affected.”

The Committee makes a number of specific recommendations to improve the AtW programme. These include that DWP:

Be clearer about the basis on which it makes its decisions on eligibility and levels of awards and the processes by which applicants can have decisions reviewed or complain [para 94; paras 106–7];
Establish online application and invoicing systems and, in the longer term, develop an AtW “web portal”, as recommended in the Sayce Review [para 121];
Improve disability awareness training for DWP staff administering the programme, and establish at least two additional specialist Adviser teams, for service users with learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders [paras 126­–7];
Increase the accessibility of information about AtW, including by introducing “Easy Read” content for people with learning disabilities, and BSL content [para 128]; and
Introduce a Video Relay System to allow deaf BSL users to make contact more easily with the Department [para 129].

Work and Pensions report slams government’s mismanagement of ATW

#StopChanges2ATW welcome the findings of the Work and Pensions select committee inquiry into Access To Work (ATW) published today.

The 31 recommendations reflect the considerable difficulties Deaf and disabled people have experienced with the scheme since changes were introduced by the Department of Work and Pensions over the past year to what was previously a very effective programme of disability related employment support.

The report says ATW “has the potential to be an extremely effective model, helping to address the substantial gap between the employment rate for disabled people and that of the rest of the population. Where it works well, it transforms the lives of disabled people, many of whom would be unable to work without it.”

Over recent months ATW customers have been driven to crisis through the combination of a disastrous restructure, which they were never consulted over, and the introduction of targets to increase numbers using the scheme without significantly increasing its budget.

As a result an overwhelming number of Deaf and disabled people have been pushed to despair fearing for their futures, with many out of pocket or owing thousands of pounds that they simply don’t have.

#StopChanges2ATW, named this week on Limping Chicken by respected blogger Jen Dodds as campaign of the year, was set up to draw attention to the scale of what was happening. Working with DeafATW and the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI) we sought justice for Deaf and disabled people adversely impacted and a reversal of all negative changes.

Although the Work and Pensions inquiry into ATW was originally intended to focus on mental health and learning difficulties, we were delighted that the Select Committee listened to our calls to widen its scope and ensure the inquiry process was made accessible for Deaf BSL users.

We now welcome the findings of the inquiry which support the key concerns from our campaign. The report highlights the DWP’s failure to provide “a satisfactory explanation of how the money saved from the closure or sale of Remploy factories has been used”. It finds that as a result of trying to increase the ATW caseload within an only marginally increased budget, that the DWP is “bearing down on the awards of current service users who happen to require relatively high cost support, to the detriment of meeting their needs effectively.” The report also criticises the “remarkably little published information on Access to Work”, commenting that much of the information needed for the inquirt has had to be pieced together from DWP’s answers to Parliamentary Questions and Freedom of Information requests.

The Committee makes a number of specific recommendations to improve the ATW programme. These include that the DWP be clearer about how its makes decisions, makes its processes more accessible introducing a Video Relay System to allow Deaf BSL users to make contact and improves its disability awareness training for staff.

Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of the Committee, has called for the DWP to urgently address the impact of the “30 hour rule” and to make a strong case to the HM Treasury for substantial additional funding.

The report also acknowledges NUBSLI, which was set up only this year in response to the attacks on BSL interpreters’ pay and condition affected through the changes to Access to Work, recommending “that DWP consult the BSL interpreting professions through the Association of Sign Language Interpreters and the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters.”

#StopChanges2ATW co-founder Geraldine O’Halloran said “The report is promising and is a good result for our campaign. We are delighted the Committee understood the impact of the 30 hour rule and cuts to resources for Deaf BSL users as well as the need for properly qualified and skilled interpreters. ”

Tracey Lazard, CEO of Inclusion London, said: “#StopChanges2ATW and all the campaigners working together to oppose the damaging impact of the changes to Access to Work should be congratulated on getting the Work and Pensions Committee to listen to their concerns. The recommendations from the inquiry strongly reflect the measures that Deaf and disabled people have been calling for.”

One disappointment is that the Committee’s recommendation on employment support for people with mental health support needs does not go far enough. The report acknowledges that whereas “People with physical and sensory impairments have an element of choice in how their Access to Work support is provided; there is currently a lack of choice in Access to Work mental health support”. The recommendation is given that “DWP develop a range of mental health provision” but does not explicitly state that customers with mental health support needs should have a parity of choice with other customers, enabling individuals to identify the support we need to achieve our employment outcomes instead of being restricted to choosing from a pre-designated, albeit longer, menu of set support options.

It also remains to be seen how far if at all the Department for Work and Pensions will follow the report’s recommendations. The key recommendation of the Work and Pensions report on Employment and Support Allowance and the Work Capability Assessment, that “a fundamental redesign of the ESA end-to-end process” was needed, was ignored in the government’s response.

Meanwhile we continue to hear on a daily basis of lives being ruined as ATW packages are driven down, support essential for Deaf and disabled people to stay in their jobs is denied and ATW communication failings persist.

Roger Lewis of Disabled People Against Cuts said”The reality is that Deaf and disabled people are being squeezed from above and below. On the one hand they are stripping away the social security system and labelling us as benefit scroungers, on the other they are pushing us out of the labour market and eroding disability employment support. Lord Freud’s comments about whether disabled people are worth £2 an hour aren’t an anomaly, they represent what this government really thinks about us. ”

One thing we do know is that #StopChanges2ATW will carry on campaigning to hold the government to account for its erosion of ATW and to fight not only for a reversal of the damage done over recent months but beyond that for improvements to the scheme that will widen its reach and enable many more Deaf and disabled people to access their right to employment.

Work and Pensions press release
Download full report here
Reaction from NUBSLI
Reaction from DeafATW
Limping Chicken

Look out for #StopChanges2ATW on news features throughout the day.

Statement by Mark Harper Minster for Disabled People

Finally an admission that ATW have “not met [our] customer service standards”.

We would like to thank the Minister for this long overdue acknowledgement of the poor services that people have had to endure.

Following this statement, we will be following the DWPs progress with keen interest on the immediate improvements outlined.

We look forward to the governments response to the Work & Pension Select Committee report which becomes public available tomorrow. We will be publishing the report as soon as it is available along with Stop Changes response.

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Best Campaign Award 2014!

We were delighted to get awarded the best campaign of 2014 by Jen Dodds in her Limping Chicken article! Read/watch it here.

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Tomorrow we will be giving our response to the Work & Pension Select Committee report. Please look out for this.

Work & Pension Select Committee Report: Release date announced.

Please see below:

Work and Pensions Committee announces publication of report, Improving Access to Work for disabled people

The Work and Pensions Select Committee will publish its report, Improving Access to Work for disabled people, at 00.01 am on Friday 19 December.

It will be available under embargo to the media and witnesses only on the morning of Thursday 18 December.

Alternate formats
The Report’s Summary will be published in Easy Read and as a BSL video, and the substantive press notice made available as a BSL video, at 00.01hrs on Friday 19 December.

Stop Changes will make a response available on Friday 19th December 2014.

Support for DPAC after devastating blow by High Court.

Stop Changes would like to offer a message of support to DPAC campaigners after a devastating blow was struck by the high court today.

Read about the Independent Living fund closure and today’s ruling here.

Why is this case important to Stop Changes?

We have seen how an unlawful decision has not done anything to change the governments mind about closing the Independent Living Fund (ILF). We are attempting to take a case to judicial review as we believe the government have acted unlawfully in the way they have administered Access to Work. We need to look at what is happening with the ILF and be prepared for the challenges ahead.

DPAC will undoubtedly be even more determined to fight on and have the full support of Stop Changes.

What is happening with the ILF is important to everyone. It is about what we want our society to look like. It is about you. It is about me. We all need to get behind this campaign.

Show your support for ATW!

With just a couple of weeks before the Work and Pension Select Committee inquiry report is out, why not show your support for AtW by changing your Facebook and Twitter profile picture?

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We are also asking people to donate to Stop Changes fighting fund instead of sending Christmas cards this year. Please donate to: http://www.gofundme.com/stopchanges2atw and send a copy of our picture to your friends to show them you’ve donated!

Thank you.

Stop changes support BSL interpreters

Today NUBSLI, with the full support of Unite the Union, have released their minimum fee structure.

More information available here.

Attacks on BSL interpreters is an attack on the Deaf community.

BSL interpreters are highly trained and skilled individuals who perform a vital role, providing access to BSL users. Stop Changes To Access To Work would like to send a message of support to NUBSLI and BSL interpreters who are fighting for the future of their careers.