Stop Changes To Access To Work – Response to Ministerial Statement
Mark Harper, Minister for Disabled People has today released a statement regarding Access to Work. The statement comes in response to the Work and Pensions Select committee report into Access to Work published on 19 December which made comprehensive recommendations to improve the programme and address changes which have had a devastating impact on deaf and disabled people’s ability to stay in employment. The statement also concludes an anxious eight month wait for the outcome of the Ministerial review into the ’30 hour rule’.
The contents of the statement are a mixed bag: whilst there are some areas which, if used correctly could be seen as positive, there are also areas of huge concern.
We would welcome measures to give greater flexibility over how customers use awards but there is too little detail in the statement to ascertain whether the proposed process of offering personal budgets will deliver improved outcomes. It is notable that another initiative announced in the statement, to pilot contracted transport services for customers across the largest towns and cities which will in effect remove choice. The statement also mentions raising the profile of Access to Work’s Mental Health Support Service whereas the biggest improvement in this area would be to recognise a range of different support options and address the numerous problems with the current service, with inappropriate referrals and its reliance upon a single therapeutic model.
The most concerning aspect of the statement is the introduction of capping awards from October 2015. The removal of the 30 hour rule and delay in implementing the cap until April 2018 for those currently with an award higher than this level provides welcome relief for those in immediate fear for their jobs. However, long term, this measure will remove employment choices and limit the ability of in particular Deaf BSL users to get into and progress in employment. In capping high cost support needs, the government will be discriminating against those who rely on certain types of support.
A second major area of concern is the framework being developed by the DWP working closely with the Crown Commercial Service. We are not aware of any consultation with Deaf BSL Users or interpreters on this. The #ScrapThe Framework campaign being led by the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI) has highlighted the many problems with using a framework agreement for interpreting and translation in regards to the Deaf community. The framework, which in its current state is unworkable and will force many interpreters of the profession, threatens the quality and sustainability of interpreting services to Deaf people.
We welcome moves to improve the accessibility of contact with Access to Work including building on email channels and the intention of offering a Video Relay Service for BSL users later in 2015/16. However we would be concerned about over-reliance on digital solutions which could exclude disabled people with certain access needs and create extra barriers for those without online access, for example those applying for the first time who have been offered but not yet started in employment.
Although the statement outlines an ambition to increase the numbers of disabled people helped including people with hidden impairments including mental health conditions, learning disabilities and autism, there is nothing to how this will be achieved. The direction of travel for Access to Work has been to increase emphasis on time limited interventions, technological solutions and tapering support. The statement gives no indication that this will be reversed and a new approach adopted based on an understanding of the need for ongoing support for some individuals from all impairment groups.
Overall, there is nothing in the statement to suggest any commitment to changing the culture that currently exists within the programme. The emphasis throughout is on cost. As the Work and Pensions Select Committee stated this should not be an issue. The government have failed to complete or publish any financial analysis of the scheme or even acknowledge the suggestion of the AME/DEL switch which would ensure an exponential growth.
Geraldine O’Halloran, Deaf BSL user and co-founder of the StopChanges2ATW campaign said: “The Deaf community is keen to promote Deaf professionalism on par with the hearing community, we want to see more Deaf people as Lawyers, Teachers, Researchers, Politicians on the same level as their hearing counterparts. Unfortunately the news that AtW budgets will be capped will have a detrimental effect on this ambition – how will we ever get there without the right the support we need. How long will we have to wait?“
Tracey Lazard, CEO of Inclusion London which has supported the campaign said: “The government’s statement issued today on Access to Work includes some welcome measures to improve the service including the introduction of personal budgets which will promote flexibility, choice and control. We are also pleased at the intention to offer more accessible procedures for contacting Access to Work, long called for by Deaf and disabled people. However, the statement also includes the news that ATW budgets will be capped. The effect of this will be to introduce a limit on how far Deaf BSL users can participate and progress in employment.”
Ellen Clifford from Disabled People Against Cuts said: “Harper’s statement underlines the government’s failure to recognise the value of investing in employment support for Deaf and disabled people, something which has been proven to recoup money for the Treasury. The capping of Access to Work budgets represents a regression in employment rights, particularly of Deaf people and reflects a continued attack on BSL and standards of interpreting. It is further proof that the Disability Confident campaign is not about fulfilling potential but killing potential.”
Nicky Evans, Branch Secretary of the National Union for British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI) said: “The national framework agreement cited in the statement is, in its current state, unworkable. It is set to decimate the BSL interpreting/translating profession. The consequences of will be profound and we expect to see a sharp decline in the quality of interpreting provision. It will not only affect AtW provision but Deaf people’s ability to access every area of society.”