Changes to Access to Work
By Philip Gerrard, CEO
An Access to Work (ATW) grant can pay for practical support if you have a disability, health or mental health condition to help you start working or stay in work. Hours after the election results were announced, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) released a document stating their intentions to make significant cuts to the Access to Work scheme. This, and the announcement in The Independent and other newspapers that the new Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, is against disability benefits, seems to demonstrate a clear political stance on the future of financial support to those who are Deaf and/or disabled.
As someone who uses Access to Work, this is naturally a concern. The cuts that I have experienced before this date are already affecting me and many other Deaf people who use BSL interpreters in the workplace. The news of change has brought concern to ATW users all over the country. Section 3.3 of the report is entitled ‘Central Contracting of British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreters’; this in itself is alarming and suggests radical changes to the current system.
Access to Work currently has 5,750 Deaf and hearing loss customers, 3,084 of whom have ‘awards’ for BSL interpretation and might be impacted by the framework. DWP has recently applied the Access to Work guidance to full-time Support Workers, and capped the hourly rate at which it is prepared to reimburse Support Workers’ costs. It seems as though BSL interpreters are included in this category and their pay will be capped also. This has a profoundly detrimental impact on many service users, particularly those who require a significant amount of interpretation in order to do their jobs effectively. DWP’s recognition of this adverse impact, and the temporary suspension of the guidance (which was not applied to my case, but is still a serious concern), is welcome; however, its stringent application of the guidance in this context demonstrated a lack of understanding of how BSL interpretation is currently provided and highlights the need for much improved consultation with stakeholders prior to significant changes to service delivery in the future.
The article included concerns about the way ATW now encourages ATW users who need BSL interpreters to employ one interpreter full time. One opponent of this wrote “I do not want to recruit a salaried / employed interpreter. I do not want my employer to have that extra burden. Why should they? I am the employee of the organisation… this is my life and my career. I feel completely disempowered with this whole process. I want to have a career and I am frightened that companies will be put off employing deaf people in the future if they suddenly have to employ 2-3 people rather than one.”
A statistic I heard recently stated that it is twice as hard for a Deaf person to find work than for someone who has spent time in prison!
Although the savings that will be made from these cuts in the framework are not yet clear, it is apparent that the governmental process of ‘bidding against itself’ has meant that the government’s buying power has not worked for the benefit of taxpayers or Deaf customers for whom competition has driven up costs, including instances when they need to source support from their own funds.
The whole process seems badly organised and the constant administration between us and the ATW team is arduous and time consuming.
I heard this week that one of my new Deaf members of staff has been denied any funding from ATW – this is immensely disappointing and I hope this will not be a glimpse in to what support ATW will be able to provide in the future.