The responses to the Access to Work report have been coming in.
The Disability Minister Mark Harper said yesterday:
In the course of my evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into Access to Work, I accepted that during the reorganisation of Access to Work operations, from April to October 2014, we had not met our customer service standards.
Today I am pleased to report that we have achieved a significant improvement in customer service well ahead of schedule and our outstanding claims awaiting payment are now generally running at less than 1 day’s worth of intake, compared with nearly 18 days’ worth in October, so that payments will usually be made within 10 working days of receipt of a claim.
In addition I set out that I did not wish to delay making further improvements to the programme, which is on course to support more disabled people in work than last year. I am therefore pleased to announce the following improvements:
– establishing specialist teams to ensure that they understand the issues faced by customers and can produce consistent decisions. We have already established teams covering Deaf and hearing loss customers, visually impaired customers and those with mental health conditions, and others are being considered;
– setting up a technology and innovation forum to help customers, stakeholders and staff understand how existing and emerging technology can help provide the support disabled people need to get and keep employment;
– working with stakeholders on a series of events early next year to raise awareness of the Mental Health Support Service;
– ensuring that communication with customers can be made via email more easily, subject to the customer’s request for a reasonable adjustment. This will better meet customer accessibility requirements and greatly speed up the resolution of cases;
– working with stakeholders to develop user-friendly guidance, with the aim of beginning to publish this by the end of March 2015;
– improving transparency of the programme. I will set out more information about programme performance in the next set of official statistics due in January, and at that time will explore how this can be further expanded in subsequent releases.
Finally, I will consider carefully the findings of the Work and Pensions Select Committee Report into Access to Work when it is published and will respond to it in due course.
Susan Daniels, Chief Executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society said:
“The Select Committee report provides a damning indictment of how deaf and other disabled people have been supported by Access to Work (AtW), particularly in terms of customer service. Access to Work (AtW) plays a vital role in supporting deaf young people into employment and we believe that its current effectiveness has been undermined by how the programme is administered, organised and run. We have also noticed a severe deterioration in the quality of support that deaf people are receiving at work.
“We welcome the steps being taken by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to improve Access to Work, and call upon the DWP for greater transparency, consistency, and accessibility of information for deaf young people. Government figures suggest that less than half (48%) of deaf adults are employed, compared to 77% of adults with no disability. We need to see immediate improvements made to Access to Work services in supporting more deaf young people as they move into employment.”
David Buxton, chair of the UK Council on Deafness Access to Work group, said:
“This report, and yesterday’s statement by the Minister for Disabled People, are testament to the way deaf people and organisations have worked together over the past year.
“Hundreds of deaf people submitted evidence to the inquiry, many more than usual, and that is reflected in the report. Whilst improvements need to be made to the scheme for all disabled people, it’s clear deaf people have borne the brunt of changes to the programme.
“As Dame Anne said, it would be unacceptable for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to try and control costs by targeting a particular group and threatening their ability to stay in their jobs. We don’t think that was the intention, but unfortunately that’s what it seemed like to deaf people.
“The application of the 30 hour rule, capping of hourly rates and refusing to fund a second interpreter when necessary all showed the DWP didn’t understand how sign language interpreting is provided and used, as the Committee recognised. We are therefore very pleased the Committee recommends introducing a specially trained team to deal with high cost awards, and that it receives intensive training in deaf awareness and the solutions available.
“We also hope Access to Work follows the recommendations that the guidance on employing a support worker should not apply to sign language interpreting and to fully review the awards of everyone who has suffered as a result.
“Of course, many deaf people don’t use sign language. Whilst many of the problems have related to interpreting, it’s important the DWP doesn’t lose sight of the variety of support needed.
“We now look forward to working with the DWP to finish its review and begin to make the changes that will mean more people benefiting from Access to Work. We are also talking to them about making the case for additional funding to the Treasury and hope they will follow the Committee’s recommendation to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of Access to Work.”
The UK Council on Deafness was pleased to note many of the recommendations made by the Committee are in line with its own vision for Access to Work. They include
· consulting people who use Access to Work before changes are made;
· greater clarity on how decisions are taken and appeals and complaints can be made;
· establishing an online system;
· better disability awareness training, with specific attention to deaf awareness;
· better knowledge of the support and technology available for deaf people;
· guidance in BSL; and
· making it possible for people to contact Access to Work via video relay.
Richard Kramer, Deputy Chief Executive at Sense, said:
“Access to Work should play a vital role in supporting disabled people to work. However it is clear that the system has been marred by delays, poor administration and a lack of funding from the Department for Work and Pensions. This scheme is vital for many deafblind people who require it to fund BSL interpreters and support workers to enable them to play a full and active role in society.
“It is deeply worrying that the report is highlighting so many problems with the system, especially when we know that only 1 in 5 deafblind people are in work. DWP must prioritise the recommendations made in this report and improve the system for disabled people.”
Jim Edwards, chief executive of Signature, said:
“For the thousands of deaf people whose first or only language is British Sign Language (BSL), interpreters are a necessity. Without them they are cut off from co-workers, unable to access the day-to-day life of the workplace.
The Committee has recognised the substantial gap in Access to Work’s understanding of sign language interpreting. It’s something we and our partners across the sector have been explaining to them for the past year.
As well as the funding offered being below the market rate, the approach ignored the fact people need different support at different times. On one occasion they might need a sign language interpreter, on another a speech to text reporter.
And very few sign language interpreters want to work full time in one setting. A variety of work helps them to develop new skills and improve the ones they already have, which benefits the people who rely on their services.
We therefore think the Committee’s recommendation is a very sensible one. It reflects the fact sign language interpreting is a professional skill that is required by many deaf people on an ongoing basis.
But we think Access to Work should go further. Everyone’s needs should be assessed on a case by case basis to make sure the right decisions are made, rather than setting an arbitrary limit to funding.
If the government is serious about helping all disabled people fulfil their potential, it will invest in Access to Work and award support solely based on need.”
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