Improving Access to Work for disabled people - Work and Pensions Committee Contents

1  Introduction

In the text of this report, our conclusions are set out in bold type and our recommendations, to which the Government is required to respond, are set out in bold italic type.

1. Despite progress over recent decades, people with disabilities are still at a considerable disadvantage in the UK labour market. Official data show a substantial gap between the employment rate of working age people with disabilities (51%) and that of the general working age population (73%).[1] A large number of people fall out of employment each year due to ill health and disability: some 429,000 people in 2013.[2]

The Access to Work programme

2. Access to Work (AtW) is a publicly funded employment support programme, administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The programme aims to help level the playing field for disabled people in the labour market. It addresses barriers to employment by providing a range of practical help. Support is available to all long-term disabled people aged 16 years and over who are in, or about to start, paid work, including self-employment.

3. AtW can be used to fund single or multiple adaptations or pieces of equipment, or ongoing support, for example work-related travel costs, communication support for deaf people, Support Workers for people with learning disabilities or autism, or help to overcome difficulties at work presented by mental health issues. Ongoing awards tend to be granted for three years and are typically reviewed annually.[3]

4. AtW is a discretionary award; it is not a statutory benefit to which eligible people have a legal entitlement. Applicants have no right to a formal appeal against DWP's decisions on their eligibility or level of award.[4] The programme is intended to provide a level of support above the "reasonable adjustments" which some employers are required to make by law.[5] Larger employers are required to make a financial contribution to some types of AtW support for their employees.[6]

The Sayce Review

5. AtW is part of a range of publicly funded specialist disability employment support, most of which offers help to people who are unemployed, through Jobcentre Plus or providers of DWP's two main contracted employment programmes, the Work Programme and Work Choice. Until recently some disabled people worked in government-subsidised supported employment, in factory businesses run by Remploy. AtW is unique in supporting disabled people who have secured a "mainstream" job or are already in work but need some practical help to stay there.

6. In 2011 Liz Sayce OBE, then Chief Executive of the Royal Association for Disability Rights, was asked by the Government to undertake a review of the range of available specialist support. Her report highlighted "overwhelming support" for the AtW programme. She described it as "highly effective and well-liked" by "service users, employers, disabled people's organisations and charities." She also concluded that AtW was in line with most disabled people's aspirations to work in mainstream employment, rather than in any form of supported or subsidised work, such as that then provided in Remploy's factory businesses.

7. Liz Sayce emphasised that AtW currently helps far fewer disabled people than might potentially benefit from it. She described the programme as being "rationed by a lack of publicity"; it was consequently "the Government's best-kept secret". Awareness of AtW was particularly low amongst smaller employers and particular groups of disabled people, including people with mental ill health and intellectual, cognitive, and developmental impairments.

8. The Sayce Review's recommendations in relation to AtW were primarily designed to: raise awareness of, and access to, the programme, particularly amongst currently under-represented groups; create efficiencies in the way AtW support is provided; and substantially increase the number of people the programme helps. She recommended that Remploy's factories be closed or sold, with the savings from its public subsidy funding then released to be used for other elements of employment support for disabled people, including AtW. The recommendations were accepted by the Government, which subsequently appointed an expert panel, led by Mike Adams OBE, Chair of ECDP, a Disabled People's User Led Group, to consider how they could be implemented.

Our inquiry and the current DWP internal review

9. Our starting point for this inquiry was agreement with the broad conclusions of the Sayce Review; we therefore wanted to monitor progress towards implementation of some of its key recommendations. We also set out to consider in some detail DWP's administration of the programme, and identify potential improvements, including improving access for the groups identified by Liz Sayce as being under-represented in the current AtW "caseload". [7]

10. During the course of our inquiry the then DWP Minister for Disabled People (Mike Penning MP) announced an internal departmental review of AtW, largely in response to serious concerns expressed by deaf people who use AtW to fund British Sign Language (BSL) support at work. DWP's review is currently looking for ways to "support more disabled people and further improve customer service."[8] In oral evidence, the current Minister (Mark Harper MP) assured us that the Department had been following the evidence to our inquiry very closely and was considering many of the same issues.[9] We therefore expect our Report to inform DWP's internal review, which we hope will lead to substantial improvements to the programme.

11. We received over 340 written and BSL video submissions, most of which were accepted as formal written evidence (video submissions were transcribed) and are published online.[10] We held four oral evidence sessions with: Liz Sayce and Mike Adams; witnesses representing users of AtW with a wide range of impairments; employers, a self-employed person and small business owner, and providers of AtW support; and the Minister, Mark Harper MP, and Colin Stewart, Work Services Director, North West England, DWP. A full list of witnesses is available at the end of this Report.

12. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to the inquiry, particularly those who offered help and advice on making the inquiry accessible and the many individual AtW service users who took time to share their experiences with us.

1   Office for National Statistic, Labour Market Statistics, November 2014, Statistical Bulletin; table A08 [employment rate for disabled people includes people with a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010 and/or work-limiting disabilities] Back

2   Scope, A million futures: Halving the disability employment gap, April 2014 Back

3   See; DWP (ATW0235) Back

4   DWP, Access to Work guidance, version 24, para 631 Back

5   Equality Act 2010 Back

6   DWP/JCP, Employers' Guide to Access to Work [accessed 19 November 2014] Back

7   See Sayce, L., Getting in, staying in and getting on: Disability employment support fit for the future, June 2011 [Hereafter, Sayce Review]; DWP, Specialist disability employment programmes: Government's response to Liz Sayce's independent review of specialist disability employment programmes, Getting in, staying in and getting on, Cm 8106, July 2011; and HC Deb, 4 July 2012, cols 59-61WS Back

8   HC Deb, 10 June 2014, cols 45-46WS Back

9   Q254 [Mr Harper] Back

10   A list of published written evidence is set out at the end of this report Back

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Prepared 19 December 2014