Jacqueline Winstanley BSC hons Universal Inclusion UK C4GEI Board Member Chair Fluidity, Virgin Start Up Mentor

Jacqueline Winstanley BSC hons
Universal Inclusion UK
C4GEI Board Member
Chair Fluidity, Virgin Start Up Mentor

Joint response from Universal inclusion and Fluidity to the statement issued today in the Uk by the Minister for Disabled People Mark Harper.

Issued by Jacqueline Winstanley Bsc hons Chair Fluidity UK Forum For Hidden and Fluctuating Conditions, Entrepreneur Universal Inclusion

Issued Thursday 12th March 2015

Whilst any support which enhances the rights and working lives of disabled people is welcome.

This is a missed opportunity following the Select Committee Investigation, Report and subsequent recommendations to return to the once Flagship Status once held by the Access to Work Award .

We are particularly concerned about the impact on Disabled Women who are notoriously low earners and could be disproportionately affected by this decision.

See our response to each section of the statement below :

The Minister states :

Access to Work plays a key part in building a Disability Confident Britain. In 2013/14 Access to Work spent £108m to help 35,540 disabled people enter or remain in work, over 4,000 more than in 2012/13. I want to build on this by continuing to improve customer service, increase the numbers of disabled people helped, improve choice and control and reach out to under-represented groups such as those with hidden impairments including mental health conditions, learning disabilities and autism.

Our response :

In response to the Ministers stated intent to improve choice, and reach out to under represented groups he has failed at the first hurdle, as this is yet something else that is being done to disabled people not in consultation or partnership with them.

Indeed the Minister refused to meet with Fluidity & Universal Inclusion to discuss our concerns about AtW and more importantly our members proposals on how AtW could be improved going forward , particularly for disabled entrepreneurs

The Minister states :

In December 2014, I announced operational improvements to the Access to Work Scheme. The transformation of Access to Work operations is starting to bear fruit and I am pleased to announce that we are now meeting service standards.

Our response :

These operational improvements followed a Select Committee Investigation into AtW, which highlighted significant failings and made recommendations to govt

This followed an earlier programme of reform, which was also conducted without consulting disabled people and had a devastating impact not only on service standards but also more importantly on peoples working lives.

The Minister states :

This gives a platform for further reform. In 2015/16 we will start a process of offering personal budgets for those with on-going awards for travel or support. This will give users more freedom over how they use their awards.

Our response:

The decision to move to personalised budgets is welcome, however we would advise caution, if the award is insufficient it is of little relevance who has control over it.

The Minister states :

We also aim over time to transform the way disabled people interact with the service. A new project is underway to re-engineer Access to Work as a digital service, building on the email channels opened up before Christmas. We also intend to offer a Video Relay Service option for BSL users later in 2015/16.

Our response :

We welcome this move to bring the application process up to date and include the long awaited option of alternative formats .

The Minister states:

In 2013/14 the average Access to Work award was around £3,000, and half of users have awards below £1,000. However, 1% of users with awards over £35,000 per annum account for 15% of the budget. I want to ensure that Access to Work can help the most people it can in future. So as of October 2015, Access to Work will provide awards up to a limit set at one and half times average salary (a limit of £40,800 per person per year at October 2015). This will be uprated annually in line with the level of average salaries. I believe it is right that there is this explicit link to the labour market.

Our response :

We see this as a significant move away from the commitment to the right of disabled people to work and a commitment to putting in the support they will need to do so .

The removal of the “ No lower earnings limit “ element of the award will only serve to further restrict the uptake of the award , particularly within self employment .

This shows a complete lack of understanding of disabled people and their working lives.

We would question the Minister on where he has gained his facts that a disabled person employed or self-employed will have a salary, which can be multiplied, to the level of support that is required.

The Minister States :

Anybody with an award higher than this level as of October 2015 will not be subject to that limit until April 2018. This is to help them and employers adjust to their new level of support. Specialist teams will work in partnership with these individuals and employers, for example advising on reasonable adjustments and greater use of technology. These individuals would also be invited to take advantage of a personal budget to help them manage their support in more tailored and efficient ways to meet their needs.

Our response :

It has been a longstanding misconception by AtW that technology can reduce the high level costs that the minority of the service users require .

Our members have previously been put through multiple assessments in an attempt to do so, assessments which have been costly , inappropriate and have not achieved their objective .

For instance Dragon Software has often been suggested in an attempt to reduce the need for support worker hours , which has in the case of our members failed miserably.

We would again ask the Minister on what evidence he has based this decision on.

The Minister states:

DWP has also been working closely with Deaf Access to Work users and the Crown Commercial Service to develop a framework for translation services including British Sign Language. This will guarantee quality standards and set transparent rates from Summer 2015. We will build on this by working with Deaf people and stakeholder groups to undertake a market review of BSL interpretation provision to explore long term improvements in the market.

In this context, I can announce the removal of the currently suspended “30 hour guidance” from April 2015 which these wider reforms will render unnecessary.

Our response:

We are sure this is welcomed by the Deaf Community , I do wonder however the impact the cap and salary multiplyer will have on the Deaf Community.

The Minister states

Over 30% of Access to Work spending is on taxis for customers with mobility problems. This is a transformative service for customers and I want to ensure that improvements to customer service, reliability, value for money and accessibility standards for wider society can be driven by Government using its buying power to drive quality and performance. Starting early in 2015/16, we will look to pilot contracted services for customers across our largest towns and cities.

Our response”

Any improvement on the current system which leaves the disabled person out of pocket and could be commissioned directly, encompasses particular need and choice has to be a good thing .

The Minister states :

Self-Employment is a flexible option for many disabled people. I am now able to announce that I have recently established a further specialist team to provide expert advice and support to disabled people who want to run their own successful businesses. Furthermore, to ensure disabled people have a clear understanding of how they can be supported to maintain their business and continue in self employment, from October 2015 eligibility will be based around the Universal Credit rules. These balance allowing a reasonable period for businesses to establish themselves, with ensuring that taxpayers money goes to support legitimate and viable businesses, offering Access to Work a more consistent and objective basis for awards.

Our response :

Self-employment can be and is a real option for disabled people across the UK and we would caution the Minister on the significant step backwards he is taking in this regard.

Whilst we are pleased to see the creation of a specialist team to provide expert advice and support to disabled entrepreneurs, we note the lack of commitment to consulting with and working in partnership with disabled people who are actually best placed in terms of identifying the support they require in this area.

This further evidences the lack of understanding of Inclusive Entrepreneurship , the rights and aspirations of disabled people.

The Ministers reluctance to consult with disabled entrepreneurs is reflected in the narrow scope of his response in this regard and the decision to link support to this group of disabled people to Universal credit Rules is an insult to the integrity and worth of disabled entrepreneurs in the UK and will only serve to limit what was becoming a surge in both growth and innovation.

We would like to question the Minister on what evidence he has to support such a backwards step. Particularly as our members have repeatedly expressed their concern about support in the workplace being linked to the Benefit System and the stigma associated with it .

We have again extended our offer to meet with the Minister independently or as part of the larger Access to Work Group, which has representation from the major disability charities and organisations in the UK who offer a significant breadth of expertise in this area.