The government’s flagship Access to Work scheme may have helped
many disabled people find a job, but too many employers and
disabled people are unaware that the initiative exists.
Access to Work, run by Jobcentre Plus for the Department for Work
and Pensions (DWP), provides advice and practical support for
disabled people, including those with mental health problems or
learning difficulties, to enter the employment market and hold down
The support ranges from providing an interpreter for a deaf person
to grants to pay for adapting a desk for a wheelchair user.
Although a review of the initiative in 2000-1 reduced the number of
people experiencing delays in receiving assessments and support
(government figures show that in the past two years 86 per cent of
applicants were helped within 60 working days) other problems
Recent research by deaf people’s charity RNID found that one-third
of a sample of 300 deaf jobseekers in the South West had not heard
of Access to Work. A new report, from the Joseph Rowntree
Foundation, found a lack of knowledge by Access to Work advisers on
a range of impairments and a wide variation in the level of
service.1 Although this study was completed in October 2002,
disability charities still voice concerns on these issues.
Lorna Reith, chief executive of the Disability Alliance, claims the
government does not publicise the scheme in order to save money. “I
challenge anybody to find any reference to Access to Work on the
DWP website,” she says.
Susan Boddy, national campaigns officer for learning difficulty
charity Mencap, agrees. “The government talks about getting more
disabled people into work but it doesn’t want to have to invest in
it.” She adds that there is no information on the scheme that is
accessible to people with learning difficulties.
MPs have also recognised the problem. A DWP select committee report
produced in April this year calls for the government to increase
the Access to Work budget to reflect the number of disabled people
who want to work. It also urges a “much wider publicity
Reith says the lack of publicity means disabled people and
employers are often unaware of the scheme. She says this deters
employers from recruiting disabled people as they incorrectly think
they will have to spend a lot of money in support costs when in
fact these will be paid by the government.
She says that, even without the scheme, in most cases employers
would not have to spend much money as most disabled people need
only a low level of support, but she adds that the scheme is still
valuable as it alleviates any unfounded concerns they may
Leslie Child, one of the authors of the JRF research and a
freelance disability equality trainer, says publicity is
particularly important due to the structure of the scheme. For
employees to have all their approved support costs paid, they must
have been in a job for fewer than six weeks.
James Fothergill, a policy officer at the Confederation of British
Industry, confirms there is a lack of awareness of Access to Work
among employers. “A significant number of small and medium-sized
firms won’t know about it,” he says. Many employers feel there is a
lack of continuing support from Jobcentre Plus and there is a
problem of high staff turnover. “When some employers follow up an
enquiry they often find a person has left and they are back at
square one,” Fothergill says.
According to a A DWP spokesperson, Jobcentre Plus invests
£300,000 a year marketing and publicising its disability
services and programmes including Access to Work. He adds that
disability employment advisers regularly meet local employers to
promote the scheme.
But disability charities cite inconsistency in decisions over who
gets support as another problem area even though all Access to Work
advisers work to the same guidelines.
Duleep Allirajah, a policy officer at the RNID, says his
organisation has never been able to get hold of these guidelines.
He argues that the RNID needs the guidelines to work out why
decisions are made in order to challenge them. He says that,
although there will always be a “postcode lottery” element to the
scheme while it is left to discretion, the RNID does not want such
guidelines to become statutory for fear that this could lead to a
“one-size-fits-all approach”. Instead it wants more transparency in
the reasons behind decisions.
Although the government review of Access to Work seems to have
tackled the delays issue for many, Lorraine Gradwell, director of
Breakthrough UK, which supports disabled people, and another author
of the JRF research, says this is not the case for some people with
high levels of need where waits of three months for support
packages can occur. These delays can deter employers taking on
Gradwell is a powered wheelchair user with a high level of support
need. She says that, although she has had a positive experience of
Access to Work this could be because she knows the system.
Conversely, Child knows one person who first contacted Access to
Work in November 2001 but only last week received confirmation that
their support package had been approved.
The level of knowledge of Access to Work advisers is another area
that the disability sector highlights as in need of improvement.
Gradwell says that, although she would not expect every adviser to
have an “encyclopaedic” knowledge of all disabilities, she would
expect them to know where to find such information, which is not
the case now.
Child, also a service user, agrees that advisers lack knowledge.
“The advisers need to listen to what disabled people tell them,
which they are reluctant to do,” she says. She believes advisers
often have the view that disabled people “are all trying to work
the system” when this is not the case.
Child and Gradwell call for advisers to receive more training.
Child says this should not only be on the issues of impairment but
also on attitudes and the right way to speak to disabled
Access to Work is under scrutiny from charities and organisations,
including the RNIB and the Disability Rights Commission. Although
the initiative has the potential to be one of the most significant
employment schemes for disabled people, publicity is seen as
crucial to its success. As Philippa Simkiss, assistant director for
employment at RNIB, puts it: “People just don’t know that they are
Thriving and Surviving at Work (price £13.95) from
01235 465500. Key findings from www.jrf.org.uk