The government has opened up its Access to Work (AtW) scheme to new groups of young disabled people, just days before it is due to release statistics on how many people used the programme last year.
The changes were recommended by an expert panel chaired by Mike Adams, chief executive of the user-led organisation ecdp, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accepting nine of his 11 recommendations.
He said: “We were very clear we wanted a system that was much more personalised around the needs of disabled people, and I think we have got a commitment from Esther [McVey, the minister for disabled people] to do that.”
He was particularly pleased that McVey agreed with his recommendation that there should be more flexibility with AtW payments.
Claimants will now be able to apply for up-front payments to allow them to take up or remain in a job, and it will also be possible for them to vary the amount of support they use on a weekly basis – for instance if their working hours vary every week – without having to check every time with their AtW adviser.
But Adams said he was disappointed that the government had not yet accepted his recommendation that claimants should be able to manage their AtW payments online, which he said would have a “huge positive impact on disabled people”.
And he said more needed to be done to help people with fluctuating conditions.
He also said he would have liked the government to do more to reduce the share of AtW payments met by employers.
The government also agreed that disabled people on traineeships, supported internships and work academies will now all be eligible for support through AtW, with the DWP putting aside £2 million a year for such schemes.
Disabled people on work trials arranged through Jobcentre Plus can already apply for AtW, but eligibility is now being extended to disabled people who arrange their own work trial with an employer, if there is a “realistic prospect” of a job at the end of it.
Work trials allow a jobseeker to continue receiving benefits while working for a potential employer for up to 30 days, to test whether a potential job is suitable.
Traineeships will be introduced from August and will offer young people a work placement and work skills training, as well as support to improve their English and maths.
Supported internships – which were launched this week following a trial in 15 further education colleges – offer a structured study programme, based with an employer, which includes on-the-job training, support from job coaches, and the chance to study for relevant qualifications if appropriate.
And work academies provide pre-employment training, a work experience placement and a guaranteed job interview.
The most recent AtW figures, released in April, showed that the number of people using the scheme – which provides funding towards the extra costs disabled people face in work, such as travel costs, adapted equipment or support workers – had started to rise again, after a sustained period when numbers had been falling.
Liz Sayce welcomed the government’s decision to make AtW available for all traineeships and work experience, a recommendation of her review of supported employment, and which she said could “overcome terrible discrimination, especially for young disabled people who couldn’t get a job without experience and couldn’t get any experience for lack of funds for adjustments – a catch 22”.
She said the changes were the results of campaigning by disabled people.
But she added: “We have a crisis of young disabled people’s unemployment. Next, government needs to remove barriers to apprenticeships like unnecessary qualifications; and stop the scrounger rhetoric that gives a disastrous message to employers and damages disabled people’s employment opportunities.”
Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said: “Young disabled people tell me how difficult it can be to get a job without experience – and they want the same choice of training opportunities as everyone else to help them into work.
“We’re opening up Access to Work to do just that – so that more young disabled people can get a foothold in the jobs market, get their careers on track and achieve their full potential.”
McVey admitted last October that AtW spending had plummeted from £107 million in 2010-2011 to just £93 million in 2011-12, while the number of disabled people claiming funding had fallen from 37,000 in 2009-10 to just over 30,000 in 2011-12.
To find out more about Access to Work, visit: https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com