Minister for Disabled People announces plans to improve the Access to Work employment programme

Monday 19 November 2012

Today the Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey MP, announced measures to strengthen the Access to Work employment scheme. This announcement follows the completion of the first phase of work carried out by an expert panel chaired by ecdp’s CEO, Mike Adams. The panel was set up following the Sayce review of the Access to Work scheme, to help take forward the recommendations made in the review.

ecdp worked with members to understand the experience of disabled people in Essex of using Access to Work, and the lived experience collected was submitted to the Sayce review.

Those who took part in this work will be pleased to see many of the issues they had with Access to Work being addressed. For example, during our research, members told us they often found Access to Work difficult to navigate, and so will welcome the moves to make the programme more responsive and easier to use.

We welcome the plan to allow Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations (DPULO) to propose innovative ways to provide innovative peer support to Access to Work users. ecdp knows that peer support can be invaluable to disabled people when using any new system of support. Indeed, during our original research we found that people often approached their local DPULO for information about Access to Work.

One of the greatest barriers members faced when using Access to Work was caused by their employer not understanding Access to Work, or not fulfilling their responsibilities. Members will welcome the aim to train Access to Work advisers to better support employers to ensure they support their employees as well as possible.

You can read ecdp's original report on Access to Work, here: ecdp Access to Work report

The Minister’s full statement is below:

Access to Work helps over 30,000 disabled people each year retain and enter employment. It provides valuable support such as help with travel to work, purchase of specialist equipment and support workers. Last year the Government spent £93 million on this highly effective and well regarded programme.

Following Liz Sayce’s review of Specialist Disability Employment Programmes, ‘Getting in, staying in and getting on’ the Government has already announced significant improvements to Access to Work, including an additional £15m over this Spending Review period, availability of the scheme to young disabled people undertaking work experience under the Youth Contract, and a targeted marketing campaign. On 4 July we announced that we were establishing an expert panel, chaired by Mike Adams, to help us take forward some of the recommendations in Liz Sayce’s report, and to provide advice on the further transformation of the programme. I am grateful to Mike Adams and the panel for their advice.

Today, I can announce that the panel has completed the first phase of its work, and that we will be implementing a number of changes between now and March 2013 aimed at further strengthening the programme.

    • We will introduce a fast track assessment process so individuals who already know their support requirements will move swiftly through their application.
    • We will make it easier to transfer equipment so that individuals can move more easily between employers with their special aids and equipment.
    • We will allow individuals to use their Disabled Students Allowance assessment information as part of the Access to Work assessment process.

Access to Work aims to increase levels of personalisation and to promote independence where ever possible and appropriate, so in line with this:

    • Access to Work will aim to find the most appropriate independent travel to work option to make each individual aware of all available options, such as travel buddies, travel training, or adaptations to a vehicle, where appropriate. I wish to make it clear that there will be no withdrawal of taxi support for individuals for whom this is the most appropriate and independent travel option.
    • Access to Work will strengthen the support agreement letter to place more emphasis on individually tailored travel plans so all individuals will have a personally tailored solution in their agreement letter taking account of all available travel options.
    • We will invite Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations to produce innovative employment related peer support proposals to support disabled individuals using Access to Work. Any proposals will then be assessed before being taken forward. This will mean that individuals accessing Access to Work will have the opportunity to benefit from peer support alongside their standard package of support.

Access to Work has an important role to play in facilitating an open, constructive and productive relationship between employer and employee. In line with the expert panel’s advice, we will introduce changes that strengthen Access to Work’s ability to perform this role:

    • Access to Work will amend its guidance and products to ensure that employers are made aware of when and how they will play a part in the application process.
    • Access to Work will ensure that its advisers consistently act as a catalyst to encourage employers to think of creative, individually tailored adjustments for every disabled employee, for example, by using case studies with employers to bring potential solutions alive.
    • Access to Work will further up-skill advisers to work more constructively with employers to deliver the most appropriate adjustments in order to ensure that their disabled employees are supported as effectively as possible

I would also like to announce two further changes aimed at facilitating the relationship between employer and employee. Access to Work has, since 2010, operated a list of standard equipment it would not normally expect to fund. The list has not, however, always operated as effectively as it might have done, and may have discouraged some applications. Consequently, we will cease to operate this list and instead Access to Work advisers will work constructively with employer and employee to identify where Access to Work can assist.

I would also like to announce today that, whilst the principle of sharing costs of adjustments between employer and Access to Work will remain in place for medium-sized and large employers, we will remove cost share for those employing between 10 and 49 people. This brings these relatively small businesses in line with provisions that already exist for micro businesses.

I would like to emphasise that these changes are aimed at making Access to Work more responsive and easier to use, especially for small businesses. Under the Equality Act, employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. These changes will not mean that the tax payer picks up the bill for reasonable adjustments that others should be making.

Finally, I would like to announce further help for disabled people wishing to establish their own business through the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA), which provides valuable support for aspiring jobseekers wishing to start up their own business. From 3 December we will pilot extending Access to Work to eligible disabled people undertaking business start up activity on the NEA scheme in the Merseyside region. Subject to effective operation in Merseyside, we will aim to roll out the measure nationally in the New Year.

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