Monthly Archives: October 2017

Barriers to Work launch: statement from Dawn Butler MP


Dear Friends 

I would like to send my apologies for being unable to join you this evening due to the change in timeslot which now clashes with another engagement. I know that you will be covering some very important issues and I look forward to receiving feedback from your discussions. 

It is hugely important that we break down all barriers preventing people from succeeding in their careers. That is why Access to Work is so important and I was delighted that Labour, in our manifesto this year, committed to commissioning a report into expanding the Access to Work programme. We must do everything we can to support disabled people start and stay in work and must not allow them to lose out due to the cap. 

This includes those who are deaf or hard of hearing, who I have been long campaigning for and deserve equal rights and treatment. Deaf people are already discriminated against through all areas of their lives including school, and integrating everyone in the workplace is good for the economy, good for social inclusion and good for individuals’ mental health and wellbeing. 

I am passionate in my belief that equality is equality, you cannot pick and choose. In my new role as Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities I will be fighting hard for the rights of everyone, no matter their background, disability or other characteristic and I look forward to continuing working with colleagues and others I support of this vital aim. I hope you have a good evening. 

Warm regards, 

Dawn Butler MP.

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Rebuttal of arguments currently used by DWP for changes made to AtW

There are regular arguments that Access to Work rely on to justify the changes being made to the Access to Work (AtW) scheme. We would like to address each of these here.

Fraud/AtW administrative issues:

Access to Work fraud is often cited as a reason for needing to change the system. According to statistics printed in 2014, provided anecdotally by AtW officials (https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2014/January/appdg-meets-Mike-penning), fraud stands at less than half percent (0.3%). Current DWP published statistics on fraud do not include any data on AtW.

The administrative system the scheme uses is wide open to fraud (read article here). This has been raised by BSL/English interpreters on several occasions since 2013 directly with AtW officials. Deaf clients and interpreters were anxious that they might unwittingly get caught up in fraud and requested guidance and procedures they could follow in order to safeguard themselves. This was never provided by AtW. (Further reading available at bottom of post, see links 1-3).

More recently, the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI) have tried to sort out numerous problems with the payment system with AtW (further reading available at bottom of post, see links 4 – 5), which highlighted the lack of any robust financial controls. Some of the issues raised were: no remittance advice being received, payments being revived with no invoice numbers meaning no reconciliation could be done, partial/under/over payment of invoices. Further to this, interpreters who have been owed money have not been paid statutory late payment fees (the government have been in breech or their own rules). A Freedom of Information request asking for the internal audit recommendations made on the scheme was refused on the basis of public interest and is in the process of being appealed.

The system used, is not accessible. AtW have recently stated that they have moved over to a digital system, however no one we are aware of has been offered or is using this.

Due to the lack of accessibility of the claims process, many claimants rely on the support of others to complete their forms. They are being asked to sign something that they do not know is correct or not. Similarly, Deaf claimants are being asked to enter into a contractual relationship with interpreters without understanding this. If AtW doesn’t pay then they are personally liable for any interpreters fees. Many deaf people aren’t aware of this. It is only good will that has prevented interpreters taking Deaf people to small claims court. The government has taken advantage of AtW being a discretionary grant and the arrangements place deaf and disabled people at risk.

Reconsideration/complaints:

AtW say they have only received eight complaints during September (2017). According to an FOI response: “The reconsideration process applies to decisions and the complaints process applies to other aspects of our service delivery as explained in the answer to FOI 3293. If a customer is unhappy with a decision they should request a reconsideration or, for example, if they are unhappy with the service they received they should complain. Once the reconsideration process is complete a customer cannot make a complaint about the decision at tier one or two”. [7]

“Reconsideration” is in itself a claimant making a complaint about the level of award they have been offered, yet these figures are not made available. Again, an FOI has been submitted and we are awaiting a response.

The cap:

The cap being introduced is considered reasonable by AtW who say that no one person should receive in support costs more than one and a half times the average worker’s salary. They believe that by limiting the support rewarded to each individual they can “invest in reaching more people”.

We disagree.

There are several problems with this:

• It disproportionately impacts people who have higher support needs and is therefore discriminatory in nature.

• It limits AtW users ability to progress in their careers and creates a glass ceiling. Deaf and disabled people should not be disadvantaged by their access needs and have the right to be ambitious.

• Successful Deaf and disabled professionals encourages others to enter the job market.

• The government is encouraging people to take jobs that are manual or unskilled setting the disability movement back 30 years, when deaf job clubs were used.

It is widely accepted that Access to Work brings the treasury a return on investment. (See the Sayce report and the select committee report into AtW). Whilst the amount has been contentious, this fact has never been shown to be untrue.

Therefore the argument that reducing support will serve more people simply does not follow. The scheme does not impact on the governments spend, in fact it brings money in. It is for this reason that more people should be encouraged to use the scheme.

References:

  1. http://limpingchicken.com/2014/05/20/jen-dodds-some-agencies-treat-freelance-sign-language-interpreters-as-cash-cows-bsl/
  2. http://limpingchicken.com/2016/05/05/anonymous-an-open-letter-to-the-work-and-pensions-secretary-about-access-to-work/
  3. DWP finance meeting 8 February 2016
  4. Meeting with DWP 16 November 2015
  5. NUBSLI evidence to Select Committee
  6. https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/what_is_the_current_reconsiderat

 

StopChanges2AtW response to the PHSO report

The long awaited report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman was released yesterday (25th October 2017). Read it here. Whilst the report remit was to investigate the complaints made about the DWPs handling of claimants awards, it fails to put this in the wider context of a scheme that brings treasury a return on investment. A repetition of the governments rhetoric of the need for cuts has diminished the complainants longer term concerns. Who, having undergone difficulties for the past three years, are now set to experience yet more problems in accessing the support they require. 
 The PHSO recognised that the effect of changes to the scheme “was a series of flawed decisions that underpinned a change in operational approach which had a particularly detrimental impact on some members of two specific groups of people: deaf and self employed customers”. (p.9) 

Following this, the report states that “in the context of increasing demand and limited resources, it can be tempting for Departments to look to make immediate savings by focusing on the most expensive cases and making cuts to these”, however the report affirms that the government accepted all recommendations of the Sayce report which is where the return on investment was first published. We therefore question the need to make any cuts to support as the scheme is not only self funding, it actually brings money in. 

The government have disputed the Sayce figures (which contradicts the point made above) yet have never done a full cost analysis of the scheme. This was previously called for by the DWP Select Committee inquiry (read the report here). It is disappointing that the PHSO didn’t consider asking why a full cost analysis had not been provided or how they intend to mitigate the cap, which goes against why the scheme was originally established. 

We were disappointed that the PHSO has been so slow to produce this report and that in it has needed to recognise many of its own failings. 

 This report is very disappointing in its lack of recommendations. The AtW scheme is “not fit for purpose” (read our Barriers to Work report and recommendations) and this has been a missed opportunity for the many deaf and disabled clients who had put their hopes in this process. 

 

Barriers to Work: our report and recommendations 

You may have caught the Victoria Derbyshire programme that focused on Access to Work this morning? If you missed it you can watch it here.

This programme coincides with the parliamentary launch of our report and recommendations into the Access to Work scheme.

Our report highlights the many problems that Deaf and disabled people face when using the scheme which has been called ‘not fit for purpose’.


Barriers to Work: A survey of Deaf and Disabled people’s experiences of the Access to Work programme in 2015/2016

Read the full report here (pdf).

Improve Access to Work: our recommendations

Read our recommendations here (pdf).

Barriers to Work – get involved in campaigning for an Access to Work scheme that is fit for purpose

Access to Work has a proven track record of effectively supporting Deaf and Disabled people to get into, stay in and get on in employment while providing a return on investment to the Treasury, and yet over recent years has been beset by difficulties that are increasing barriers to work.

This October, StopChanges2AtW, a campaign led by Deaf and Disabled campaigners and interpreters, will be launching our report “Barriers to work” and recommendations to how to improve the Access to Work programme and make it once again fit for purpose.

We are asking Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations and their members to help raise awareness of the difficulties that problems with Access to Work are causing.

Ways to get involved: 

Write to your local MP – It’s important that MPs know what is happening and the adverse impacts that problems with Access to Work are having. Write to let your MP know any bad experiences you have had and invite them to attend our Barriers to Work Parliamentary event. You can download the event invitation here to send to them – let them know you are a constituent and that this issue is of importance to you.

Join our twitter storm! – we have produced a list of tweets that you can use at the time of our event to get attention to the issue. Find our suggested tweets here.

Sign up to our thunderclap! – thunderclap will send a message or tweet from your account at a set time. You will be able to see what will be sent before you sign up and it will only be able to do this for this one message. Sign up here.