“Our mission could be in jeopardy.” Graeae’s Jenny Sealey on impact of Access to Work problems on theatre company

Posted on October 28, 2014

How serious is the situation facing Graeae now?

Graeae supports employees and freelancers to make Access to Work applications and in any one year up to 150 applications might be made.

Between 8-15% of Graeae’s costs are reclaimed through Access to Work. It enables us to employ 80+ Deaf and disabled people every year. Graeae have had a number of claims for international work rejected and claims dating as far back as February are still not authorised.

Graeae is at a crossroads – if things change before the end of the year, if the system is fixed and applications from here on in are resolved quickly, we can plan for the future, we will have taken a significant hit in the year 2014-15 but the company will survive.

Jenny Sealey

Jenny Sealey

However, if things continue to go the way they are, it will be impossible to plan future projects relying on income from Access to Work and it will leave us with up to £125k per year unfunded.

This is not money that we can find from elsewhere: Arts Council England, British Council or trusts and foundations won’t be able to fill the gap (as we will not be the only company to face this). It will lead to further cancellation of work, will mean that we will actually lose funding from other sources (as AtW is sometimes used as match funding) and ultimately will mean that we will be able to offer significantly fewer employment opportunities to Deaf and disabled people.

How do your staff and performers feel about how they’ve been treated by ATW?

Morale is low amongst the team at the moment. We have more ambition than ever, there is more interest in the company’s work than ever, we are more creative than ever, but we feel like we are driving with the handbrake on.

If things don’t improve, what will happen?

Up to £125k of Graeae’s access costs are covered by Access to Work, without this money our mission could be in jeopardy.

However, the knock on effect for recipients is even more significant: the system has become so unusable and is so demoralising that people are just going to stop applying. This, at a time when their other benefits are also under threat means that some of the people we work with are becoming disenfranchised, victimised and disinclined to enter work.

How do you feel personally about this?

My team and I have spent so much time on my support alone; the application, the ongoing support, the international projects, the reams of extra information they’ve needed, the rejection, the reconsideration reapplication, the re-rejection, the complaint, and now, finally, I’ve been told I can reclaim the support that the company has paid out for me since April.

However this will all be re-assessed in December and we are now on our fourth case worker! I’ve been lucky enough to have been in situations and at events where I can be very vocal about how the process is not working for me and many others.

Applications for international projects still have not been authorised and most have been turned down outright. I am the CEO of an international theatre company and am being told that applications are being rejected as they are about my personal development. It misrepresents and distorts the nature of these applications and my work with the company.

This battle is not and never has been about me, it is about everyone affected. Graeae are still waiting on claims from February and May, and it has taken over our working lives. We want to focus on theatre again. Access to Work is a great scheme; we just want the system to work again.

Find out more about how the problems with Access to Work are affecting Deaf people in this See Hear special (featuring an interview with Jenny Sealey): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04mlsw6

Find out more about Graeae’s work here: http://www.graeae.org/

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