The government should double the number of people receiving support through the Access to Work (ATW) scheme, according to the author of a major review of disabled people’s employment support programmes.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said ATW – which provides funding for adaptations and equipment at work – was “highly cost-effective” and a key part of helping disabled people to find, keep and stay in jobs.
And she called at the review’s launch in north London for efforts to increase awareness of ATW among disabled people and employers, so it becomes a “well-recognised passport to successful employment”.
Sayce said: “We want to see ATW turn from government’s best-kept secret into something that is really well-known.”
But her recommendations come as there are increasing concerns over reports of disabled people facing tighter eligibility criteria when they try to claim ATW.
Last month, the TUC’s disability conference heard that ATW was under serious threat as a result of the financial crisis and government spending cuts.
Also last month, Disability News Service revealed that government statistics showed the number of “new customers” granted ATW funding fell sharply in the first three quarters of 2010-11.
Sayce told Disability News Service: “RADAR have certainly picked up concerns about eligibility being tightened.”
She said she believed there should be a focus on “driving down the costs of products and services” obtained through ATW, and the costs of assessments.
Mike Adams, chief executive of Essex Coalition of Disabled People, who was a member of the review’s scrutiny panel, said his organisation had surveyed members about ATW and found that “when it worked it worked really well and when it didn’t work it was terrible”.
He said there were real concerns over tightening eligibility, with new claimants finding it tougher to claim but also evidence of disabled people having their existing ATW packages reduced when they were reviewed.
He added: “We are finding that people are saying it is harder to access Access to Work.”
But he said he also agreed with the need to drive down the cost of services and equipment obtained through ATW funding.
And he said he particularly welcomed Sayce’s call for the government to work with user-led organisations to provide peer support and services – including assessments – for people using ATW.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com