New figures show the number of disabled people granted funds to make their workplaces more accessible has fallen sharply again.
The number of “new customers helped” through the Access to Work (AtW) scheme has been falling steadily since the general election in 2010, apart from a small rise in the second quarter of 2011-12.
But the latest figures appear to show that that increase was just a blip, with the number of new customers helped falling from 2,660 in the second quarter of 2011-12 to just 2,390 in the third quarter, a drop of more than 10 per cent.
If this trend continues, the number of disabled people helped for the first time through the scheme is set to dip below 10,000 in 2011-12, compared with a peak of 16,540 in 2009-10.
The new figures were released on the same day that Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, told the all-party parliamentary disability group that disabled people whose jobs were at risk because of losing their disability living allowance through the government’s cuts and reforms should think of applying for AtW instead.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman suggested that the fall in new AtW customers helped was likely to reflect an increase in the contributions many employers now have to make towards funding lower-cost adaptations.
And he said the number of existing customers continuing to receive AtW support was still rising, while the government had spent £105 million on AtW in 2010-11, £6 million more than in 2009-10.
He said there had also been a rise in the number of new customers with mental health conditions and learning difficulties.
The latest figures follow a series of concerns about the coalition’s commitment to the scheme – which provides funding for adaptations, equipment and ongoing support at work – since it came to power.
In August last year, Disability News Service revealed that disabled people receiving AtW were being sent “hostile” and “threatening” letters by DWP, giving them just a week to confirm they still needed their funding before it was withdrawn.
Last June, Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, published a review of employment support for the government and focused strongly on the need to expand and improve AtW.
But the government’s response to her review made several references to concerns that her AtW recommendations could put “additional pressure on funding at a time when resources are limited”.
And in 2010, the government backtracked on a high-profile pledge to allow disabled people to secure AtW funding before they applied for a job.
The coalition also quietly introduced new rules which mean employers or disabled employees themselves now have to fund equipment such as basic versions of voice-activated software, most adapted chairs, and satellite navigation devices, rather than having them funded through AtW.
For information on AtW, visit the government’s Directgov website.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com