Access to Work in the Public
190. DWP state that when AtW was withdrawn in central
government departments in October 2006, disabled staff working
in these Departments continued to receive the same support. Staff
continued to be entitled to an AtW assessment, and information
and advice from AtW Advisers. DWP brokered an agreement through
which AtW support would be provided to any staff who would have
been eligible and whose employing department refused to fund the
adjustment. An independent qualitative evaluation of AtW has specifically
looked at the impact on staff of these funding changes. The findings
are expected to be published in spring 2009.
The Department states that any decision on whether these funding
changes will be extended to other parts of the public sector will
be made in light of the findings of the independent evaluation.
191. The Employers' Forum on Disability reports that
public sector employers feel the removal of AtW funding for employees
in central government departments is having a negative impact
on the employment and promotion prospects of disabled civil servants,
especially in those departments which are unable to fund the cost
of their adjustments out of existing/central budgets.
However, the Minister, Kitty Ussher, said: "I can exclusively
reveal that emerging findings from the evaluation which has not
yet been published are that the same types of in work support
that were provided under Access to Work are still being provided
through government departments routinely. In fact, in some circumstances,
the support extends beyond what was previous available under Access
192. The Public and Commercial Services Union argues
that it is practically impossible to assess the damage which may
have been caused to the employment and retention of disabled people
by the removal of AtW funding from central government departments.
"The number of newly disabled staff who have lost their jobs,
when the continued availability of Access to Work might have assisted
in their retention cannot be estimated. How many line managers,
faced with recruitment decisions, have opted for a non-disabled
person, for fear of the budgetary impact of employing a disabled
person will never be known."
It refers to findings of earlier research into the impact of AtW
in 2002 which pointed to the importance of independent funding
in the minds of employees - the knowledge that their funding was
not impacting on colleagues in any way nor that they had to 'owe
a debt of gratitude' to their employer for providing such funding.
193. Mr Crowther of the EHRC argued that: "we
need a much more systematic review of the impact that has had
within central government departments where that is already the
position before we move forward and extend that to the broader
public sector, certainly given the economic situation as well
that we are finding ourselves in."
We asked the Minister, Kitty Ussher, if it is "fair to put
that same burden that central government should be able to absorb
onto the public sector?" and she responded that this is "a
very fair point but we have not made that decision. We are still
in the process of evaluating so far."
194. Unite state it "would strongly oppose any
extension of this approach, and [call for] very close examination
of the impact of decisions to date."
The TUC stress that many public sector employers are small organisations
with limited budgets and a general withdrawal of AtW eligibility
from the public sector would have "catastrophic consequences
for many disabled workers. More funds are needed for the private
sector, especially SMEs, from the increase in the total AtW budget,
but this should not happen by removing funding from public sector
195. The Public and Commercial Services Union stressed
that "Modelled on the Civil Service approach to withdrawal,
schools and colleges would have to make decisions on allocating
budget resources to support disabled employees or student needs
and education; hospitals and care trusts would have to balance
their obligations to patients against the costs to be met for
employees; local authorities would have to choose between services
to local people and support for disabled employees."
Mr Purton of the TUC agreed that: "A key issue for that is
the resources question."
He referred to the 2005 Court of Appeal Case Murphy v Slough
"which determined that when it came to a school,
] the school was saying, "We have not got the resources
to employ this disabled person" and the Court of Appeal said,
"No, that is fair enough, the school is the budget holding
body. We do not take into account the resources of the local education
authority, we are simply talking about the resources of the school".
That is something which has been replicated time and time again
across small, budget-constrained public sector organisations."
196. Citizens Advice (CAB) and the Disability Charities
Consortium share the concern that an expectation that public bodies
would carry all of the cost of equipment/adaptations could lead
to a reduction in the numbers of disabled people being employed.
CAB stress that the public sector should be taking the lead in
employment policy and practice for disabled people.
However, Mr Purton of the TUC emphasised that "In the broader
public sector our concern is precisely that we have many examples
of public sector organisations which are not fulfilling their
obligations even under the existing DDA, let alone the equality
duties, in many cases because of budget restrictions."
197. We recommend
that the Government reviews the research findings from the study
on the impact of withdrawal of Access to Work funding from central
Government Departments. However, care needs to be taken in drawing
conclusions about the implications for the wider public sector
from the impact of withdrawal of Access to Work on high profile
and well-resourced central Government Departments.
198. We agree
with the principle that the public sector should be leading by
example in employment policy and practice for disabled people.
Although we believe that the concerns raised during our inquiry
and the implications of the Murphy ruling need
to be addressed as a matter of urgency by DWP, we believe that
limited Access to Work resources should be allocated as a matter
of priority in the private and the third sectors. We would expect
the proportion of Access to Work funding used in the public sector
to decline over time with the improved implementation and increased
effectiveness of the Public Sector Duty.