The Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) has today published its inquiry into Access to Work, a programme which offers funding for practical support to help people with a disability start working and/or stay in work.
The Committee concluded that Access to Work is an important element of specialist employment support for disabled people, but finds that Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff are failing to understand the needs of disabled people needing support.
Disabled people, their managers and colleagues supporting them, have all encountered significant challenges when using the system. These challenges include administration delays and a system that is inaccessible. In light of these issues, the Committee makes welcome calls on the DWP to:
· Improve disability awareness training for DWP staff administering the programme, and establish at least two additional specialist Adviser teams, for service users with learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders
· Increase the accessibility of information about Access to Work, including by introducing “Easy Read” content for people with learning disabilities and British Sign Language content
As part of Mencap’s Hear my voice general election campaign, the charity is calling on the government to urgently implement the recommendations from the inquiry to ensure that people with a learning disability can be supported to get a job and stay in work.
Ailis Hardy, Staff Development Coordinator at Mencap, is employed through Access to Work and gave oral evidence to the WPC in September this year:
“I provide direct support to a small group of staff with a learning disability and this model of support works incredibly well. There is no doubt that support from Access to Work helps people with a learning disability to learn new skills and be effective in their jobs, but all of the barriers that exist in the system stop people with a learning disability from being fully included in the process. Individuals must be able to have greater control over the support they receive.”
“I find the Access to Work programme frustrating. Its purpose is to support people with a disability into work, and keep them in work, yet the system contradicts itself as it is completely inaccessible for people with a learning disability. The forms are far too complicated to understand, and the advisors don’t seem to understand how to talk to people with a learning disability. I spend a lot of time filling in forms and chasing up calls, stopping me from supporting my colleagues in their work.
“The inconsistencies in the advice given by advisors and the final decisions these advisors make are incredibly problematic. For example, two of my colleagues who needed the same amount of support to attend a conference, and applied for the same grant, received hugely different amounts. This lack of consistency unfairly penalises many people with a learning disability.
Ciara Lawrence is supported through Access to Work in her role as a Campaigns Assistant for Mencap. She gave evidence to the WPC in September this year:
“I work full-time and need support because I have lots of things to do in my job. For example, I attend meetings, deliver presentations, speak at conferences and lead workshops. Through Access to Work, I am helped to manage my time, my workload and my diary better. Without this support, I wouldn’t be able to do my job to the best of my ability and would have to give up lots of my responsibilities.
“I have had some problems with Access to Work. I didn’t understand the application, so it made me feel stupid. Also, when I phone advisors, they talk too fast, use words I don’t understand and ask confusing questions. They say they will call back but it is stressful waiting as it can take days and they won’t tell me when they will call. The lack of awareness and understanding about learning disability makes the system inaccessible.”
Youssef Abidat is also supported through Access to work in his role as a Campaigns Assistant for Mencap. But because Youssef works part-time he only gets limited support from Access to Work:
“Access to Work pays for office equipment which is useful to me. It helps me to use the computer. It also helps me get to work because I can’t stand for very long and I can’t use stairs. I feel like Access to Work gives me freedom! I am able to do my job properly.
“But because I work part-time, I only get Access to Work support, if they decide to give it to me, one year on and one year off. I find it really hard to reapply. They ask you awkward questions like ‘why didn’t you have it last year? If you managed last year without it, why can’t you this year?’ But I don’t manage without it –when I don’t get support it makes my health worse and I can’t do my job as well.”
There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.
For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email firstname.lastname@example.org