Thursday, 16 October 2014

Access to Work - the government's in charge of another car crash

The government is actively making decisions that make it harder for disabled people to find and stay in work.

This, despite their rhetoric of work being good for you.

You'd think a government scheme that brings in £1.48 for each £1.00 spent on it (ref. 1 below) would be a flagship scheme, widely trumpeted and funded to the gills. But no, Access to Work, a fantastic scheme, that met the costs linked to meeting disabled people's access needs so they wouldn't disadvantage either employer or employee is being screwed around with, and is turning into a car crash.

Disabled workers are being made to wait 6 months upwards for decisions on whether the scheme will cover their needs. For some, this is too long, and people are having to leave jobs before decisions are made.

Previously, Access to Work was administered from multiple regional offices. Individuals would be linked to a specific advisor, who would understand the detail of their conditions, work, and requirements. This meant less admin time for both worker and government employee as explaining every last detail of work roles, conditions, and needs only needed to happen once.

Now, those regional offices have been closed, and a smaller number of central offices have opened. Those experienced in the system have lost work, and new staff have been employed. Workers no longer have a dedicated advisor, so have to go into minute detail every time they contact the AtW office. Hours can be lost to repeated phone calls - all time spent on admin that a non-disabled worker doesn't have to do. And all costing taxpayers' - our - money, as an inefficiency has been added to the system.

I have a small amount of self employed work as a printmaker. I need to go to art fairs to sell my work - just relying on internet sales isn't enough. I am medically unfit to drive, so need to take my work - including framed prints up to 60cm square - on the bus, or in taxis. I struggle to lift and carry heavy items, so need help with this.

Formerly, AtW would help with taxi costs (within reason) to get to fairs, and a support worker, to help with physical tasks I can't manage. Bear in mind this is stuff a non-disabled person could do alone. However, recently AtW are asking for proof I have a profitable business before they'll consider me eligible for support.

How many self-employed people turn a profit in the first couple of years of operation?

I am only taking the same risks that a non-disabled person might take, but to have my access costs funded, I'm being asked to prove I'm paying NI and turning a profit immediately. To do that, I need to get to fairs, to expose my work to the public. To do that, I need support to get to those fairs. To get that support to got those fairs I need to apply to AtW. And if I cover the the support myself, I'm having to earn half as much again before I turn a profit because 50% of my earnings would go on access support... You see the Catch 22?

Access to Work should be more widely available and better funded. It can really act to remove barriers to work for disabled people, and secondarily creates employment through both the infrastructure of the scheme, and through the employment of trainers, mentors, support workers and interpreters.

I strongly believe if there is any contraction in the Access to Work scheme the government is both shooting itself in the foot as fewer disabled people will be able to stay in work, and will be making yet another decision that actively worsens conditions for a group of people who already face systemic discrimination.

The government can choose to act to remove barriers to work for disabled people here. Challenging systemic discrimination should not be falling on the shoulders of those who already carry the burden both of that discrimination, and live lives that carry the challenges of impairment. As a government, you have the capability to lift that burden significantly, and not to do so is to shirk your duty. Those who have been placed in power by the country should use that power to better the lot of those with the least, and disabled people are amongst those both with the least, and who will struggle the most to change their own situations.

Ref. 1: