Access to Work – a brilliant secret!

access to work logoAccess to Work has been described as the government’s best kept secret. It is a scheme which provides funding to make workplaces more accessible for disabled employees. I have used the scheme both for myself and as an employer and it really can make the difference between a disabled person being able to work or remain on benefits.

Research shows that 45% of Access to Work customers would be unable to work without this assistance, and it currently provides support for around 35,000 disabled employees (or self-employed disabled people). It is a huge success, but has faced a number of problems. Not enough disabled people or employers knows it exists, and therefore don’t access it, and until recently there were a number of restrictions surrounding the qualifying criteria. And also, as with most things, lack of funding.

A number of initiatives are taking place to resolve some of these issues. For example, the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller announced a targeted marketing campaign, specifically aimed at people with mental health issues and young people, and will concentrate on the areas where Access to Work is currently under-utilised.

One of the main barriers to accessing the scheme was that the person had to be in paid employment – people on work experience or unpaid internships did not qualify. It is now going to be extended to include people on work experience, which will be particularly helpful to young people who use work experience schemes to gain experience and access to paid employment.

The government has also pledged an additional £15 million to the Access to Work fund which should help an additional 8,000 disabled people access work.

These improvements to the system were recommended by Liz Sayce in a report called “Getting In, Staying In and Getting On”. Her response to the recent announcements, which include a panel of disabled people advising the government on Access to Work reform, was:

“Access to Work is a vital factor in creating a level-playing field for disabled people and it earns the Treasury £1.48 for every £1 spent. However its potential is far from fulfilled and with my recommendations we can maximise the benefits for disabled people, employers and thus for the economy at large.

Many employers fail to tap into the large pool of talented disabled people because of lack of support – or because they do not know that support is available. This is a clear waste for employers and the economy.

Access to Work needs reform so that it supports far more disabled people to realise their potential. My recommendations are widely supported by disabled people and our organisations – and it is especially important to improve opportunities for young disabled people. Additionally the Government needs to roll Work Choice into it so that all specialist employment support is based on choice and control. I urge the Government to take action quickly so that we see this transformation in practice.”

Having personally benefitted from Access to Work, and indeed continuing to do so, I am pleased that the success of this scheme can be further built on, and is an enormous help for employers considering employing disabled people as well as the employees themselves.


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