Did you know? Access To Work support highly criticised and needs substantial improvement says Parliamentary Committee. Legal compliance seems optional for Access To Work and the Equalities Commission hasn’t managed to bring them to book. Government more focussed on disabled people watching sport rather than whether we can work and pay for the tickets? Access To Work is the scheme run by the Department for Work and Pensions to assist disabled people to work.  It can provide funding for special equipment, some work travel, support workers and more.   But the report published by a Parliamentary Select Committee on 19 December exposed how this vital support has failed to keep up with the efforts of Welfare Reform and the Work Programme in moving more disabled people in to work. Published just as most people started their Christmas breaks, the report hasn’t had much visibility so it needs wider support if ATW is going to tackle the high unemployment rates amongst people with long-term health conditions .  Here are points I’ve picked out of the summary: ATW needs substantial improvements. The Department seems to be trying to increase the number of people receiving ATW support but with only a slightly increased budget.  This means that some people who have high support needs are bearing the brunt of the inadequate funding.  My perception is that people are considered to be “Fit for Work” by the Work Capability Assessment  process (with all it’s other well recognised flaws) on the basis that ATW support is available for those who need it – but that this is not backed up by sufficient funding to make it happen. It seems that savings from the closure of the Remploy factories that had been earmarked for ATW didn’t get transferred.  Funding has been provided through the Work Programme but this has had very limited success in supporting people with long-term health conditions. ATW appears to focus primarily on people with sensory and physical impairments but there are many more people with a much larger spectrum of conditions that need help. Policy that caps support for Deaf people who use BSL interpreters needs urgent resolution.  But it is disappointing that the report doesn’t show equal concern for others of us who need highly skilled support workers too.  Some might consider that such a policy is indirect discrimination that DWP cannot justify and that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission should be on their case. There is no clear information about how ATW decisions are made and how they can be challenged.  In practice, from my experience, the Department is deliberately not telling people that they can take disputes to the Independent Case examiner and the Parliamentary and Health services Ombudsman.  It isn’t just or fair to deny us our rights. ATW is not taking adequate account of the full circumstances of self-employed people’s businesses.  Again, it also seems that they have little appreciation of the circumstances of those running single person companies.  This flies in the face of Census data that shows that working disabled people are more likely to be self-employed than others. Poor administration.  Enough said. ATW staff need better disability awareness and communications need to be more accessible.  From my perspective, it is staggering that a system aimed at supporting disabled people is not compliant with the Equality Act 2010 and that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission hasn’t taken a stance on this. The Department has introduced major changes but not told the people who will be affected!  One feels rather mushroom-like … As you may have guessed, I provided evidence to the Select committee and wouldn’t it be great if the ATW team talked to us who have had years more experience of the system than those who run it? From an individual perspective, I see no sign of any resolution to disputes that have been going on for months already.  It feels as if the last 15 years working to help other disabled people get back in to employment is treated with utter contempt when now my future work prospects are put at risk rather than being supported by this system. Perhaps the current survey in to the accessibility for spectators at sports events is timely – it looks as if I may have lots more leisure time in the future! Bouquet of the week. To all those disabled people who have been recognised in the New Year’s Honours List – we may not be able to identify you all but huge congratulations for making contributions to our society and setting great examples of just what is possible.   Yours respectfully, Penny Melville-Brown penny@laylands.co.uk
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