Help & Advice17th December 2013

Access to Work - New Approach Threatening Well-Being

Deaf workers are facing widespread reductions in their Access to Work grants - the impact could be catastrophic

by Sarah Lawrence

ATW 5

For Government Policies to work well, everything that contributes to those policies needs to work effectively. Problems arise where a small change in one area, results in a much bigger impact on a related policy. Taking into account a lot of the discussion on social media and between deaf people during social gatherings, I question whether the new approach to Access to Work is having an undue impact on deaf people who are simply trying their very best to work, run their own businesses or secure progression.

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The Government has been unduly quiet about a highly successful grant scheme that is in place to support people with disabilities who want to work. Since its inception and despite it not being widely publicised to people who might be eligible to get the grant, Access to Work has helped and supported many deaf people in accessing work, keeping their jobs, starting their own business and getting promotion. A new attitude to the award of the Access to Work grants is threatening to overturn much of the benefit that has been secured up to now and throwing a lot of deaf people back onto the jobless scrap heap.

 

So, what is Access to Work?

An Access to Work grant helps pay for practical support if you have a disability, health or mental health condition so that you can:

  • start working;
  • stay in work; or
  • start your own business.

How much you get depends on your circumstances and the money doesn’t have to be paid back and will not affect your other benefits.

There is no set amount for an Access to Work grant. How much you get depends on your circumstances. The money granted can pay for things like:

  • adaptations to the equipment you use;
  • special equipment;
  • fares to work if you can’t use public transport;
  • a support worker or job coach to help you in your workplace;
  • a support service if you have a mental health condition and you’re absent from work or finding it difficult to work;
  • disability awareness training for your colleagues;
  • a communicator at a job interview; or
  • the cost of moving your equipment if you change location or job.

You can also use the award to help start your own business in addition to any support you might be able to get from the New Enterprise Allowance.

To be eligible for an Access to Work grant, the employer must be based in England, Scotland or Wales. The applicant must be 16 or over and either about to start a job or work trial or in a paid job or self employed. You might also qualify if you’re getting the New Enterprise Allowance or starting work experience under a Youth Contract.

Access to Work was introduced specifically to support people with a disability, health or mental health condition and it is a requirrement that your disability or health condition must affect your ability to do a job or mean you have to pay work-related costs. For example, special computer equipment or travel costs because you can’t use public transport and in respect of deaf applicants, someone to help them communicate effectively with other people.

In essence, Access to Work covers some of the additional costs required in obtaining equality with other workers. If the cost of supplying an interpreter fell to an employer of a Deaf BSL user, they are highly unlikely to do that. For the sake of their 'bottom line', they are far more likely to find a worker who does not need that additional money being spent on them - a continuation of the employment discimination that has existed for many years.

Where employers and employees knew about Access to Work grants, some of that discriminatory mindset was starting to be tackled, but with the change in approach to Access to Work being experienced now, those anti-disabled worker practices are likely to take hold again.

This is where the point above about joined up Government thinking comes from. On the one hand, the Government strongly endorses its Equality Act 2010 and the requirment for reasonable adjustments for disabled workers, but on the other, it is taking away much of the financial support it has been providing to help businesses supply those reasonable adjustments. The outcome - disabled workers being shown the door and being denied opportunities. By not employing disabled workers, employers can avoid the additional costs that might be involved in employing a disabled worker.

As the Government's own website states, Access to Work can help employers with some costs involved in making adjustments for disabled workers.

Sadly, we have seen in recent weeks cases come to light where criminally minded people have misused Access to Work and where others have exploited it in respect of the provision of interpreters. The new approach to assessment coincides with these cases coming to the fore and we fear that the criminal and selfish acts of a few might be damaging the provision of Access to Works grants to the majority of deaf applicants who are doing nothing other than trying to work effectively and equally within the workplace.

Across the board, deaf people are reporting a hardening of the mindset of Access to Work assessors and a widespread reduction of the grants that have been provided over the last three years. To illustrate the change and the problems being caused, the case below highlights the change of approach and the potantial impact.

A Deaf lady currently works on a full time basis and is a senior member of staff within the media industry. Her position means that she performs the function of a Director but also in the field. These roles require her to work on creative development, script development, work with editors, production teams and members of the public.

Profoundly deaf, for over 10 years the lady has been able to secure an interpreter for the wide variety of discussions she has had, as well as helping her with wrtten tasks.  Access to interpreters with experience of the language used in the media business sector has been essential, otherwise translation risked being incomplete and incorrect. Following a recent assessment, the Access to Work grant is being dramatically reduced with a new mandate given to the applicant about how she should work with an interpreter.

Despite being the Deaf BSL user and hugely experienced in using interpreters within her industry, the Access to Work assessors have been unwilling to listen to reasoned argument and are standing steadfast behind their 'creative and innovative', but sadly unworkable solution. Disappointingly, the Access to Work solution has the potential to lose this lady her job.

We cannot be sure about the rationale behind the determination to reduce the size of the grants allocated through Access to Work. We understand that the Government needs to trim the public purse and we totally endorse them tackling fraudulent and excessive claims, but that cannot surely translate to every applicant being seen as having had an excessive award in the past.

Our biggest fear is that the change in mindset for the award of Access to Work has not been the subject of an Equality Act Impact Assessment and that the hardening of the approach will have an unduly harsh impact on deaf people who are simply doing their best to be treated equally and fairly in the work place and as self employed workers.

 

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Help & Advice

17th December 2013