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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. 

 

StopChanges2AtW needs you! – Online poll

StopChange2AtW is carrying out a quick online poll to find out about experiences of Access to Work (AtW) customers in two specific areas: AtW award payments and making contact with AtW. Please complete this poll if you have used Access to Work over the last twelve months whether or not you have experienced any difficulties in these areas.

Take poll here!

The poll is completely anonymous and closes on Friday 17th February.

The findings will be included in a report to be published in March 2017.

Anonymous letter sent on to Stephen Crabb MP


You may have seen the brilliant anonymous letter in today’s Limping Chicken about a Deaf persons experience of the Access to Work scheme, if not read it here. A BSL translation is also available.

At the request of the author, we have sent a copy of the letter to Stephen Crabb MP. Here is what we sent: 

Dear Stephen Crabb MP

Re: Anonymous letter posted on Limping Chicken Deaf blog.
We are writing to bring to your attention this anonymous letter which has been published in Limping Chicken today (http://limpingchicken.com/2016/05/05/anonymous-an-open-letter-to-the-work-and-pensions-secretary-about-access-to-work/). Please note that we have been asked to forward this and make public any response.
Stop Changes to Access to Work (SC2AtW) was set up three years ago as a result of changes that were beginning to have widespread negative impacts on Deaf AtW customers. Since that time the restructuring that has taken place has placed more stress on AtW customers, particularly for Deaf BSL users, and seen budgets being significantly reduced. This letter supports our experiences of the scheme. 
We look forward to receiving a response to the letter (posted in full below) at your earliest convenience. 
Regards
SC2AtW Campaign group.

http://www.stopchanges2AtW.com

 *****

 Dear Stephen Crabb MP,

I am writing to you because you are the Work and Pensions Secretary and have ultimate responsibility for Access to Work (AtW) funding. I want you to know what happened to me when I re-applied for my AtW funding recently.

This letter has been made public because I believe it is important that other deaf and disabled people know they are not the only ones being treated in such an unacceptable manner by your staff.

I’m afraid I cannot tell you my name because I fear for the repercussions. I am genuinely worried that I will get into “trouble” if you find out who I am. It’s not relevant anyway, because I know that what has happened to me is not unique.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m generally an empowered and assertive person. I have plenty of control over my own life. However, my new AtW advisor (I use that word in the loosest sense possible, because it was actually me who advised them) has subjected me to such stress in the last month that I actually had an anxiety attack.

I do not usually have anxiety attacks.

I am a hardworking person with a demanding desk job. I only require BSL/English interpreters for a very small amount of time, because I have limited contact with people who cannot sign. I have been doing this job for over 10 years and have been very happy with my ad hoc AtW funding of late, which your previously friendly advisors agreed with minimal fuss.

However, my funding ran out in January this year and no one told me. This apparently happens quite a lot. So, because I didn’t know, I booked interpreters and paid them, then I realised I needed to re-apply so I contacted your staff and was allocated the above advisor.

I have never been subject to such a ridiculous and demoralising “assessment” in my life. It was like having to jump through a series of hoops at speed (and some of these hoops were actually on fire). Mr Crabb, I am not a circus performer; nor am I a magician.

I felt like every question was a trick and had to be answered extremely carefully. At times, I was made to feel like a common criminal; at others, a basic inconvenience. Every time I answered a set of questions, I was presented with another set, and all of these had to be answered within a very short time. I feared that if I couldn’t come up with all the correct information, I was going to have to start all over again, or lose my funding.

I was asked if I’d been deaf all my life. No, I became deaf when I was 4, which your staff should have on file already. In the next set of questions, I was asked how I became deaf. I was 4 then! I’m 42 now! Why is that relevant? Surely your staff should know that asking people how they became disabled is a big no no!

After quibbling over the amount of hours I need interpreters for, the advisor asked if I would consider having some kind of technological gadget to replace them (no). I was also asked for all sorts of other details, including the exact amount of time I’ve used interpreters for the last 3 years for (they got their sums wrong), and was made to spell out why. Why did the number go up and down if my job and disability have remained the same? But why?

I was also asked for a copy of my accounts (they could have found that on the Companies House website), for quotes from 3 interpreters, whether or not I can lipread, and if I get any benefit from hearing aids (no – but what’s that got to do with the price of bread?). As an aside, you might be interested to know that your staff have also been asking my friends what brand of hearing aids they wear. But why?

And all of this pedantic, controlling drivel needs to be delivered to your advisors’ email inboxes within the next day or so.

Never mind our work deadlines (because we’re kind of busy! We have jobs! That’s the whole point!) and never mind our other commitments. When our AtW advisors email, we must put everything aside and prioritise them to the death.

Through all of this, my advisor remained harsh and humourless. They refused to even acknowledge my question about whether or not the money I’d paid interpreters before I knew my funding had run out would be backdated, until I’d asked about six times (then I was told they didn’t know yet). And every time I emailed them back, I thought they’d reply with a final funding decision, but they didn’t. I just got more and more questions from them, again and again.

And all because I book one interpreter about 6 times a year, so that I can undertake continuous professional development and try to get a bit of work.

Mr Crabb, this is tantamount to bullying and I will not stand for it. As I said, I usually kick ass, but your staff drove me into a state of anxiety, forcing me to ask my wife for help on several occasions, when I just couldn’t take it any more.

I’ll live, but I worry more about people who aren’t as tough as I am. What about the hardworking deaf and disabled taxpayers who don’t check their emails every nanosecond? What about those who have English as a second language, or those who don’t have wives to help them? Will they have rugs pulled from under their feet?

Your system is not working. Please look into it.

Yours,

A hardworking British taxpayer who just wants to do his job

Stop Changes Demo: 26th September 2015

Last September over 1,000 Deaf and disabled people took to the streets to protest against the cuts being made to the Access to Work scheme.

Here is the first video of the march with sound clips of the many inspiring speakers who spoke at the rally held opposite 10 Downing Street.

We would like to thank Ted Evans (www.defeyefilms.co.uk) for filming of the event (and Becky!), and Owain Paciuszko (www.owainpaciuszko.com) for video editing. You are brilliant!

Access to Work don’t have set pay rates…. Really? 

Our friends at NUBSLI (National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters), have shared a recent response they have received to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request about the rates paid by Access to Work. 

NUBSLI are working hard to safeguard the rights of Deaf people to access qualified and skilled interpreters by ensuring interpreters’ pay, terms and conditions are protected. This will mean that BSL/English interpreting continues to be a sustainable career. As part of their work they have established a Freelance Fee Guidance

The FOI they sent to the Department of Work & Pensions was to ask about the fees paid to BSL/English interpreters and the last time these were reviewed. The response will be surprising to anyone who uses Acceess to Work support…

Access to Work does not have set pay rates for BSL/English interpreting and CSW support for Deaf and deafblind people. 

Really? 

This has not been our experience of the service to date. We will be feeding this back to NUBSLI and asking them to keep us updated on this area of work. 

Please do let us know if this has been your experience by emailing us at: stopchanges2atw@gmail.com. 
The full response can be read below.  

 

Campaign open meeting 

   
#StopChanges2AtW is holding an open meeting for everyone interested in the campaign to:
– Find out what the campaign has been doing since our amazing march in September

– Find out and feed into the latest Access to Work developments

– Speak up about any problems you are currently experiencing

Since the #StopChanges2AtW campaign was set up in October 2013 a lot has happened. Some of the problems that were emerging with Access to Work got better as a result of lobbying by us and other groups. The experience of being in a campaign that brings together Deaf and Disabled people and interpreters has also been brilliant – in some ways a learning curve for all of us, but one that has been very worthwhile and made us stronger together. There are still problems with Access to Work we need to raise and lobby to change including the introduction of the cap and the prospect of privatisation among others. 
At the meeting on 10th March we will recap on what the campaign has done so far and agree on our key priorities moving forwards.

Everyone welcome whether you have been involved in the campaign previously, want to get involved now or just want to hear what’s going on.

The venue is wheelchair accessible and BSLI communication support will be provided. 

For other access needs or for more information please contact: ellen.clifford@inclusionlondon.org.uk

For more information about #StopChanges2AtW go to: https://stopchanges2atw.com/

Letter from DWP on the privatisation of Access to Work

You may remember our letter which we sent to DWP in response to the article in the Mirror last week about the privitisation of Access to Work. See our post here: https://stopchanges2atw.com/2016/02/04/privatisation-of-atw-letter-to-mr-duncan-smith/

Dear Sir/Madam

Thank you for your email of 4 February to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, concerning Access to Work.

I hope that you will understand that Government Ministers receive a large volume of correspondence and are unable to reply personally on every occasion. I have therefore been asked to respond and I hope that the following is helpful.

On behalf of this Department, I would like to confirm that no decisions have been made on the future delivery model of Access to Work and there are no current plans to privatise the service.

The Autumn Spending Review settlement awarded Access to Work with a real-terms increase in resources and, as a result, the Minister for Disabled People has commissioned a feasibility study to explore how Access to Work can help the greatest number of customers possible. Part of this feasibility study will include investigating potential future delivery models and whether any could extend customer reach beyond what Government can deliver, by having the capacity to leverage additional external funding for example.

We have published an Invitation to Tender for an external Consultancy firm to conduct the study. Independent experts are removed from Government and can therefore impartially explore the various potential delivery options and will have previous experience in this area of work.

The independent experts may liase with external stakeholders, as well as key staff amongst Access to Work Operational and Strategic divisions, to identify challenges and opportunities of the various potential delivery options.

It is important to remind stakeholders that officials are still in the commercial process of inviting tenders from potential suppliers and subsequently the study has not started yet. Furthermore, this means that no decisions on the future delivery of the scheme have been made.

Stakeholders will be kept well informed of any significant Access to Work related changes.

Yours sincerely

Ministerial Correspondence Team

 

 

Privatisation of AtW? Letter to Mr Duncan Smith 

StopChanges2AtW were appalled to read the piece in yesterdays Mirror which talked of a memo they had seen about the privatisation of Access to Work. Read it here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/iain-duncan-smith-blows-200k-7303072

Today, StopChanges2AtW sent the following letter to the DWP:

Dear Mr Duncan Smith 
We are writing to ask you to comment on the piece published in yesterday’s Mirror on a memo regarding the privatisation of Access to Work:
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/iain-duncan-smith-blows-200k-7303072

We were surprised to hear about this at a time when you and your department have publicly committed to significantly increasing the numbers of disabled people in work, and increasing employers disability confidence. We believe, and suggest evidence shows, that such a change would be likely to work against these goals.

Access to Work is widely accepted as bringing money into the treasury so the justification for wishing to privatise the scheme is unclear. Despite the government having since refuted the figures which were initially accepted (Sayce report showing the treasury recouping £1.48 for every £1 spent), no evidence has been provided to disprove these amounts. As part of the Work & Pension Select Committee inquiry recommendations it was suggested that government undertake a cost-benefit analysis of Access to Work expenditure, including its likely long-term impacts on social security expenditure and income tax returns. (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmworpen/481/481.pdf) This piece of work has never been completed.

We will be publishing our findings of a survey we conducted with Access to Work users which show that there have been widespread cuts to individual budgets. This is contrary to the proposed changes outlined in the Equality Impact Analysis (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/426416/future-of-access-to-work-equality-analysis.pdf) which suggest only the introduction of caps to high cost users defined as spending over £40,800.

Deaf and disabled people have consistently fed back that their experience of privatised services is that they are less accountable, less flexible and less customer focussed. Just when you are making improvements to the Access to Work scheme, this work looks set to be undone. 

Access to Work is currently a demand led scheme, with in principle no fixed budget. If a charity or private company is brought in this would clearly have to change, fundamentally changing the principles underlying the scheme.  

Also as experience has demonstrated, bringing a need for profit into such a service provides a powerful perverse incentive to reduce the value of awards, despite needs.

Further, any organisation brought in would have a fixed term contract. As experience has shown with other such contracts, the regular transitions to a new provider have a major negative impact on customer support and prevent the build up of necessary expertise, resources and relationships.

Should privatisation go ahead, the government are likely to see Access to Work users increasingly give up work, as the pressures being placed on them to reduce the support they need become a barrier to continued employment.

 We await a response at your earliest convenience.

Regards

Stop Changes To Access To Work