Reforms to Access to Work unveiled in Parliament today will pave the way for thousands more disabled people to be supported into mainstream employment, while being given new choices and control over the type of practical help they receive.
Changes to the scheme will also enhance support for disabled people who wish to start their own businesses.
And innovative reforms to the way some services are procured will enable support to be provided more efficiently, cutting out wasteful processes and saving taxpayers’ money.
Minister of State for Disabled People Mark Harper said:
We have invested an extra £15 million in Access to Work since 2012 and user numbers are rising steadily. I hope these changes will help many more to join them in getting into, and staying in, work in the future.
Access to Work plays a crucial role in supporting disabled people in employment and I want to see many more people benefitting from it – particularly people with mental health conditions who can face significant barriers to work and are currently under-represented in employment.
The introduction of Personal Budgets will give many Access to Work users more freedom over how they use the money allocated to them, helping them manage their support in a more tailored, efficient and cost-effective way.
In addition to setting up a new specialist team covering self-employment, from October 2015 eligibility for self-employed awards will be based on the Universal Credit rules. This will ensure disabled people have a clear understanding of how they can be supported to maintain their business and continue in self-employment with the support of the scheme. It will also allow a reasonable amount of time for setting up a business while ensuring that taxpayers’ money is only supporting legitimate and viable firms.
As part of the package of measures announced today, individual support will be limited to one and a half times the national average salary (equivalent to £40,800 at current rates). This will save enough money to pay for around 3,000 extra places on Access to Work’s Mental Health Support Service, or around 1,000 extra disabled people to be supported at the average award level.
In 2013 to 2014 Access to Work spent £108 million to help 35,540 disabled people enter or remain in work, over 4,000 more than in 2012 to 2013, and ministers wish to see this growth continue. The investment of an extra £15 million in the scheme since 2012 has seen a steady rise in the numbers of people supported.
As well as making significant improvements to the administration of the system over recent months, speeding up the time taken to process award claims, services have been enhanced with the establishment of a Mental Health Support Team. This provides effective, low-cost support, alongside mainstream Access to Work initiatives such as help with travel and communication at interviews, and awareness training for employers and colleagues to combat stigma.
Around 80% of the highest value awards for Access to Work pay for British Sign Language (BSL) services. DWP is working closely with Deaf users to develop a new framework for this, which will guarantee quality standards and set transparent prices. A future market review of BSL interpretation will also explore long-term improvements in the market to ensure the right support can be provided at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer.
Around 30% of Access to Work spending is on taxis, and these changes will include piloting contracted services for customers across the UK’s largest towns and cities. These reforms will drive improvements in customer service, reliability and accessibility standards in the taxi industry more widely, as well as achieving better value for money.
The average Access to Work award is around £3,000 per annum. However, approximately 200 people with very high level awards account for more than 10% of the entire budget.
The current highest award is approximately £120,000 per annum and historically some have exceeded £200,000 per annum.
By capping the individual award the government will save £3 million per annum by 2018, money that can be used to expand the scheme. For example, £3 million would be enough to fund 1,000 average users on the Access to Work Scheme or 3,000 places on the Mental Health Support Service.
The cap is one and a half times the average salary of £27,200 and will be reviewed annually to ensure it remains in line with the UK labour market. It will come into effect in October 2015 for new customers.
Existing customers prior to that date will be exempt from the new limit until April 2018, helping individuals and their employers to adjust to their new level of support. Specialist teams will also work in partnership with individuals subject to the cap, advising on reasonable adjustments and ways to make greater use of money-saving technology. Dedicated Deaf and hearing loss, visual impairment and self-employment teams, will help people adjust to new levels of support.
Read the written ministerial statement about the Access to Work changes.
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