Thank you to Marsha De Cordova, Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, for raising problems with Access to Work in the recent House of Commons debate on an disabled people and economic growth – including the impact that the cap is already having:
“The Access to Work programme, when it works well, provides invaluable support, but too often I hear about problems in relation to the administration and timeliness of payments, the cap on individual awards and the assessments. Ms French is a visually impaired person. Her experience of seeking employment is that when the subject of Access to Work came up, recruiters said that the employer was in too much of a hurry and would not be able to wait for an Access to Work assessment to be completed. As we all know, Access to Work is probably the best kept secret—it helps far too few people—and it will need significantly more resources if the Government are to get anywhere near the aim of getting 1 million more disabled people into work by 2027.
In the case of a deaf person, Mr Will, he was offered a job by a Disability Confident employer. However, once the employer realised that the Access to Work support would be capped and that they would have to meet the rest of the costs, the job offer was withdrawn. Will the Minister set out what substantive action the Government are taking to support people in work? What work have they done with disabled people to ensure that this support is flexible and responsive to need? More importantly, what additional funding will the Government make available, especially for Access to Work?”
The High Court has ruled that a legal challenge of the Access to Work cap can go ahead. The restrictions were introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions to limit the amount of support that individuals can be awarded by the once flagship disability employment scheme. (1) The launch of the challenge comes just a few months after the government published its disability employment strategy with the ambitious target of getting one million more Disabled people into work (2). It also follows publication in October 2017 of research commissioned by Inclusion London which found evidence of systemic problems with Access to Work (3).
The cap which will fully come into force in April 2018 (4) disproportionately impacts on Deaf BSL users and Disabled people with high support needs, effectively removing employment support from those with the most complex needs and placing them at a disadvantage when trying to get into, stay in and get on in paid work. The case is being brought under the Equality Act 2010 with funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Claimant David Buxton said: “I am extremely pleased to learn that my case has been granted a hearing on the basis that I have an arguable case that the Government has acted unlawfully.
The two key issues being heard relate to the public sector equality duty and indirect discrimination. As a Chief Executive, it cannot be right that my career is impacted by limiting my language and communication needs because I am Deaf and use British Sign Language. There is some way to go yet but the support from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and my legal team are signs that this is a case which could challenge and change existing practices, decisions and future provision.”
Solicitor Anne-Marie Jolly from law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn who are taking the case said: “As a result of this case, the government’s decision to cap Access to Work funding will finally be exposed to the scrutiny of the High Court. Government decision-making around Access to Work has historically been lacking in clarity and transparency. In keeping with that history, the decision to cap the scheme was made with no formal consultation or adequate evidence base, despite its profound impact on those affected. Mr Buxton’s claim makes the case that the Access to Work cap discriminates against Deaf and disabled people and fails to take account of the impact on them of such a regressive move. The cap perversely impacts on those with the most demanding jobs and highest support needs, the overwhelming majority of whom are Deaf BSL users, preventing them and their employers or businesses from reaching their fullest potential.”
Campaigns and policy manager Ellen Clifford from Inclusion London, whose Disability Justice Project is supporting the legal challenge, said: “The cap is already having a serious negative impact on Deaf and Disabled people’s employment. On the one hand the Government says they want to reduce the disability employment gap and get another million disabled people into work, yet here is a disability employment scheme with a track record of success where cuts to individual awards, delays, changes and continual administrative errors are combining to the point where it is no longer a viable form of support. Deaf and Disabled people are frustrated and anxious at the risk of unemployment and benefit dependency, which will come at a much higher cost to the State than the support package they need to remain in work.”
Geraldine O’Halloran, co-founder of #StopChanges2AtW (6) said: “The idea put forward by the government that employers will pay for the support that Deaf and Disabled people need in order to do their jobs on an equal basis with non-disabled people is nonsense. However much an employer values you, the majority of employers don’t have the spare money to effectively pay to take on Deaf or Disabled staff. Yet in the bigger picture it benefits the government to invest in disability employment support with research showing that the Treasury makes a surplus on investment for every pound invested in Access to Work and that’s before the wider benefits of savings to the NHS and social care are taken into consideration.”
For information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors:
1) 1) The cap is set from April 2018 at £43,100 which is 1.5x the average national salary.
The research which was carried out before the cap took effect found that almost half of respondents to a survey carried out by #StopChanges2AtW had experienced changes to their Access to Work package with “cuts” or “cost cutting” as the most frequently given reason. The report also found evidence of rationing strategies being deployed at various levels including more frequent re-assessment, often leading to a reduced award, tighter eligibility criteria, and increased restrictions on the use and portability of support, especially for the self-employed. More than half of respondents said they found Access to Work difficult to use, with one in four reporting severe difficulty. Many respondents said they effectively lost support because the processes for claiming Access to Work has become so complex and protracted with a dramatic rise in administrative problems so that the scheme was no longer a viable form of employment support. Nearly all of those experiencing changes said they had impacted negatively on their work, reducing their standard of work or their productivity. In the worst cases people had lost their job, turned down work or reduced their income as a result of the changes. Many respondents reported a personal, as well as professional, impact from the changes: through stress, poorer health, and loss of self-esteem or confidence due to feeling “like a burden”.
4) 4) Mark Harper, then Minister for Disabled people announced the introduction of the cap in March 2015:http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2015-03-12/HCWS372/
5) 5) The Sayce Report which was backed by the Government gave a figure of £1.48 back to theTtreasury for every £1 invested in Access to Work.https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/49779/sayce-report.pdf
6) 6) StopChanges2AtW is a campaign led by Deaf and Disabled professionals and British Sign Language interpreters to oppose the increasingly adverse impacts of changes and cuts to the Access to Work scheme brought in since 2014.https://stopchanges2atw.com/
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.
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.
Dawn Butler MP.
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.
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”. 
“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 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”.
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.
- DWP finance meeting 8 February 2016
- Meeting with DWP 16 November 2015
- NUBSLI evidence to Select Committee
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
SC2AtW Campaign group.
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.
A hardworking British taxpayer who just wants to do his job