StopChanges2AtW response to the governments “Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability” green paper on Access to Work
We have now seen the governments green paper “Improving Lives” which lays out the planned improvements to Access to Work. The paper states that the scheme will be significantly enhanced over the next year. The improvements being proposed are:
• a trial of managed personal budgets will offer even greater personalisation;
• we will create a new expectation that equipment will be portable and move with the individual when they change jobs and allow people to apply earlier so that support is in place for job starts;
• we will work with schools and colleges to ensure that young disabled people are aware of the help they can get from Access to Work and can use supported internships and other first steps into work, including work experience where this may lead to a job;
• we will significantly increase the capacity of the Mental Health Support Service to meet the rising demand18;
• for those with the greatest needs, such as some British Sign Language (BSL) users, we will offer a personalised service. They will be able to access support of up to £43,100 per year from April 2018, and will be offered new managed personal budgets as well as workplace assessments involving their employers, to help them meet their needs within their award levels. Deaf customers will be supported by a dedicated team of specialist advisers;
• we will also work with disabled people, their families and relevant organisations (including social enterprise employers) to develop new targeted support for learning disabled social service users and secondary mental health support service users.
Whilst some of these may seem to be sensible suggestions at first glance, we are concerned about the unintended consequences which, as previously with the 30 hour rule, have not properly been considered.
We have seen several ombudsman complaints (which were all upheld) that demonstrated the amount of stress being placed on the recipients by the scheme. One of the main issues with budgets have been the prescriptive way that these have been administered, however we are not confident that advisors will have been trained sufficiently to support further personalisation. There is a fundamental lack of understanding over different groups needs and we have not seen enough to show that this has been properly acknowledged. We do not wish to see additional pressure being placed on individuals. It is also worth noting that until the claims procedure is overhauled it remains inaccessible. We would want to see how personalised budgets will work and ensure that there is no risk to the individual. For example, BSL users are responsible for contracting interpreters rather than AtW and if a mistake is made then they will legally be liable.
Whilst we are pleased to see the needs of BSL users being considered, AtW have previously had a specialist Deaf team: they weren’t adequately trained and misunderstood the role of an interpreter and the needs of deaf users.
The cap will affect BSL users disproportionately and “working with employers” sounds very much like the “job redesign” that was previously attempted by AtW and heavily criticised. Deaf people were having their jobs changed to accommodate the budget available for support – this goes against the original aims of the scheme and is disempowering deaf employees and their right to a fulfilling career where they are able to progress.
We note that the improvements state that AtW will work with families and organisations along with the disabled person. Again, our concern is that this could disempower the individual if this is not done well.
Unfortunately many of these improvements will not solve the issues created by recent government changes to the scheme which, prior to 2010, was considered the governments “best kept secret”.
The cap and working with employees, strikes very much as a second attempt to bring in the ’30 hour rule’ and ‘job redesign’ by another name. We are very concerned about the future of employment support for Deaf and disabled people and urge the government to consider the recommendations made alongside our recent ‘Barriers to Work’ report.