Deaf News: Unions and ATW campaign hit out at reported government plans to privatise Access to Work scheme

Posted on February 5, 2016

In a move that is sure to worry Deaf people who use the Access to Work scheme, which gives Deaf and disabled people support in the workplace, The Mirror has reported today that Iain Duncan Smith has spent £200,000 drawing up plans for the scheme to be privatised.

Duncan Smith’s track record has been heavily criticised over the last few years, with his Universal Credit plans currently running 4 years behind schedule, and with him being accused of being ‘evasive’ in explaining the delays.

Even more worryingly, it appears that the government has been advised to keep any plans to privatise Access to Work secret, amid fears of a perception of the scheme being “weakened.” The paper says:

A memo seen by the Daily Mirror admits that any privatisation could be seen to weaken the service and advises ministers not to make a public announcement about the plans.

“This is a sensitive piece of work in which stakeholders may have concerns that this represents a dilution of Government support for disability employment.”

The potential changes have already been criticised by the unions. The paper says:

The unions accused Mr Duncan Smith of trying to “fatten up” the service in preparation for privatisation.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said it was “staggering” the DWP was considering contracting out the service given the failures of Atos and other private providers.

He said: “It’s staggering that after all the failures of privatisation in DWP, such as the work programme and the Atos debacle with back to work tests, that ministers would even consider going for this.”


The Stop Changes to Access to Work campaign have already expressed their concern, with an open letter to the DWP and Duncan Smith, posted on their site. It reads:


Dear Mr Duncan Smith
We are writing to ask you to comment on the piece published in yesterday’s Mirror on a memo regarding the privatisation of Access to Work:

We were surprised to hear about this at a time when you and your department have publicly committed to significantly increasing the numbers of disabled people in work, and increasing employers disability confidence. We believe, and suggest evidence shows, that such a change would be likely to work against these goals.

Access to Work is widely accepted as bringing money into the treasury so the justification for wishing to privatise the scheme is unclear. Despite the government having since refuted the figures which were initially accepted (Sayce report showing the treasury recouping £1.48 for every £1 spent), no evidence has been provided to disprove these amounts. As part of the Work & Pension Select Committee inquiry recommendations it was suggested that government undertake a cost-benefit analysis of Access to Work expenditure, including its likely long-term impacts on social security expenditure and income tax returns. ( This piece of work has never been completed.

We will be publishing our findings of a survey we conducted with Access to Work users which show that there have been widespread cuts to individual budgets. This is contrary to the proposed changes outlined in the Equality Impact Analysis ( which suggest only the introduction of caps to high cost users defined as spending over £40,800.

Deaf and disabled people have consistently fed back that their experience of privatised services is that they are less accountable, less flexible and less customer focussed. Just when you are making improvements to the Access to Work scheme, this work looks set to be undone.

Access to Work is currently a demand led scheme, with in principle no fixed budget. If a charity or private company is brought in this would clearly have to change, fundamentally changing the principles underlying the scheme.

Also as experience has demonstrated, bringing a need for profit into such a service provides a powerful perverse incentive to reduce the value of awards, despite needs.

Further, any organisation brought in would have a fixed term contract. As experience has shown with other such contracts, the regular transitions to a new provider have a major negative impact on customer support and prevent the build up of necessary expertise, resources and relationships.

Should privatisation go ahead, the government are likely to see Access to Work users increasingly give up work, as the pressures being placed on them to reduce the support they need become a barrier to continued employment.

We await a response at your earliest convenience.


Stop Changes To Access To Work

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