Mar 152015
 

The Ministerial statement issued this week by Mark Harper, Minister against Disabled People, announced measures which will discriminate against Deaf BSL users and those with higher cost support needs by introducing a cap on Access To Work packages. The statement mentions personal budgets and the idea of giving greater flexibility and choice in how ATW customers use their packages. Deaf and disabled people are under no illusions that this will mean anything but a further driving down of support costs. There is no recognition within the statement about the value of investing in Deaf and disabled people’s employment or the proven economic benefits for the state of Access to Work. Instead there are references to taxpayers money and the implication, consistent with the cultural shift we have seen within ATW over the last year or so, that Deaf and disabled people don’t have a right to aspire to equal life chances due to cost.

Campaigners at this week’s StopChanges2ATS meeting commented that the government may as well just send us all back to the workhouse. Already the changes to ATW have pushed Deaf and disabled people out of professional positions, careers and businesses they have spent decades building. The pressure on employers to “redesign” jobs to reduce support needs is pushing Deaf and disabled people into unskilled, lower paid work.

Harper’s statement also confirms the introduction of a framework agreement which will mean the outsourcing and privatisation of BSL interpreting. A similar framework adopted four years ago in the Ministry of Justice has been a categoric disaster. The framework for translating and interpreting currently being proposed is entirely unworkable, will drive down standards and leave Deaf BSL users without the communication support they need not only day to day but also in life or death situations interacting with for example hospital or social services. In a survey carried out by the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters, 48% of interpreters surveyed said they are considering leaving the profession.

For more comment see:
https://stopchanges2atw.wordpress.com

To view the statement:
http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-vote-office/March%202015/12%20March%202015/40.DWP-Access-to-work.pdf

Dec 192014
 

#StopChanges2ATW welcome the findings of the Work and Pensions select committee inquiry into Access To Work (ATW) published today.

The 31 recommendations reflect the considerable difficulties Deaf and disabled people have experienced with the scheme since changes were introduced by the Department of Work and Pensions over the past year to what was previously a very effective programme of disability related employment support.

The report says ATW “has the potential to be an extremely effective model, helping to address the substantial gap between the employment rate for disabled people and that of the rest of the population. Where it works well, it transforms the lives of disabled people, many of whom would be unable to work without it.”

Over recent months ATW customers have been driven to crisis through the combination of a disastrous restructure, which they were never consulted over, and the introduction of targets to increase numbers using the scheme without significantly increasing its budget.

As a result an overwhelming number of Deaf and disabled people have been pushed to despair fearing for their futures, with many out of pocket or owing thousands of pounds that they simply don’t have.

#StopChanges2ATW, named this week on Limping Chicken by respected blogger Jen Dodds as campaign of the year, was set up to draw attention to the scale of what was happening. Working with DeafATW and the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI) we sought justice for Deaf and disabled people adversely impacted and a reversal of all negative changes.

Although the Work and Pensions inquiry into ATW was originally intended to focus on mental health and learning difficulties, we were delighted that the Select Committee listened to our calls to widen its scope and ensure the inquiry process was made accessible for Deaf BSL users.

We now welcome the findings of the inquiry which support the key concerns from our campaign. The report highlights the DWP’s failure to provide “a satisfactory explanation of how the money saved from the closure or sale of Remploy factories has been used”. It finds that as a result of trying to increase the ATW caseload within an only marginally increased budget, that the DWP is “bearing down on the awards of current service users who happen to require relatively high cost support, to the detriment of meeting their needs effectively.” The report also criticises the “remarkably little published information on Access to Work”, commenting that much of the information needed for the inquirt has had to be pieced together from DWP’s answers to Parliamentary Questions and Freedom of Information requests.

The Committee makes a number of specific recommendations to improve the ATW programme. These include that the DWP be clearer about how its makes decisions, makes its processes more accessible introducing a Video Relay System to allow Deaf BSL users to make contact and improves its disability awareness training for staff.

Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of the Committee, has called for the DWP to urgently address the impact of the “30 hour rule” and to make a strong case to the HM Treasury for substantial additional funding.

The report also acknowledges NUBSLI, which was set up only this year in response to the  attacks on BSL interpreters’ pay and condition affected through the changes to Access to Work, recommending “that DWP consult the BSL interpreting professions through the Association of Sign Language Interpreters and the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters.”

#StopChanges2ATW co-founder Geraldine O’Halloran said “The report is promising and is a good result for our campaign. We are delighted the Committee understood the impact of the 30 hour rule and cuts to resources for Deaf BSL users as well as the need for properly qualified and skilled interpreters. ”

Tracey Lazard, CEO of Inclusion London, said: “#StopChanges2ATW and all the campaigners working together to oppose the damaging impact of the changes to Access to Work should be congratulated on getting the Work and Pensions Committee to listen to their concerns. The recommendations from the inquiry strongly reflect the measures that Deaf and disabled people have been calling for.”

One disappointment is that the Committee’s recommendation on employment support for people with mental health support needs does not go far enough. The report acknowledges that whereas “People with physical and sensory impairments have an element of choice in how their Access to Work support is provided; there is currently a lack of choice in Access to Work mental health support”. The recommendation is given that “DWP develop a range of mental health provision” but does not explicitly state that customers with mental health support needs should have a parity of choice with other customers, enabling individuals to identify the support we need to achieve our employment outcomes instead of being restricted to choosing from a pre-designated, albeit longer, menu of set support options.

It also remains to be seen how far if at all the Department for Work and Pensions will follow the report’s recommendations. The key recommendation of the Work and Pensions report on Employment and Support Allowance and the Work Capability Assessment, that “a fundamental redesign of the ESA end-to-end process” was needed, was ignored in the government’s response.

Meanwhile we continue to hear on a daily basis of lives being ruined as ATW packages are driven down, support essential for Deaf and disabled people to stay in their jobs is denied and ATW communication failings persist.

Roger Lewis of Disabled People Against Cuts said”The reality is that Deaf and disabled people are being squeezed from above and below. On the one hand they are stripping away the social security system and labelling us as benefit scroungers, on the other they are pushing us out of the labour market and eroding disability employment support. Lord Freud’s comments about whether disabled people are worth £2 an hour aren’t an anomaly, they represent what this government really thinks about us. ”

One thing we do know is that #StopChanges2ATW will carry on campaigning to hold the government to account for its erosion of ATW and to fight not only for a reversal of the damage done over recent months but beyond that for improvements to the scheme that will widen its reach and enable many more Deaf and disabled people to access their right to employment.

Work and Pensions press release
Download full report here
Reaction from NUBSL
Limping Chicken:

Look out for #StopChanges2ATW on news features throughout the day.

Mar 142014
 

Jenny Sealey has agreed to become the spokesperson and face of the Stop Changes to Access to Work campaign.

cropped-cropped-atw1-e13845513016702

STOP CHANGES TO ACCESS TO WORK

#stopchanges2atw

Jenny is the Artistic Director of the Graeae Theatre and co-directed the London 2012 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony. Having such a high profile job, and with the government still making reference to the Paralympic legacy, you might expect that she would have escaped the 30 hour guidance. This is not the case. Jenny, like every other Access to Work user, is having to fight for the support she needs to do her job.

 You can expect to see and hear a lot more from Jenny and our campaign very soon!


Video transcript:

I just want to talk about Access to Work without that provision, I couldn’t do my job, it’s fundamental to being Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre. Access to Work is amazing, it’s so brilliant to have that, when we were doing the Paralympics, I had a team of 14 or 15 fully highly qualified interpreters working amongst, I think there were 10 deaf people, plus me, and I had my own core team of three. Without that skill, that knowledge and everything, we would never, ever have been able to do such a glorious Paralympics and for all those deaf people to have full and equal access.

What I need in my job is so varied, I go from rehearsals, to budget meetings, to board meetings, to networking, working in schools, it’s so varied so I’m very, very aware, I carefully pick which interpreters I need for which jobs and to be forced to have one interpreter, just in the office… That’s giving me just one voice, one interpretation, all the way through my working life… That’s not going to work for someone like me, and there’s many, many other deaf people that I know, that same style will not work for them either. My interpreters need to be cast, I suppose, in the same way that I cast my plays… So I have the right person for my budget meetings, you know, an interpreter that knows and understands finance… I have the right interpreter when I’m working in schools that understands the school environment… I want, I need, and have to be allowed choice, and that is the same for other deaf people. Also, we need to have fully qualified high spec interpreters, not, you know, a baby CSW… Because… That’s wrong, and that means we’re not getting full and equal access, so… please, please, we have to have choice, skill, and qualified interpreters… We need that.

For more see: http://stopchanges2atw.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/announcing-our-spokesperson-and-face-of-the-campaign/

Sign petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-changes-to-access-to-work

 

 

 

Jun 252011
 

DPAC condemns the outrageous comments made by Phillip Davies Conservative MP for Shipley, Yorkshire.  Davies announced that disabled people should be paid less than minimum wage. He claimed disabled people are considered less productive than non disabled people. Davies was condemned by Disability organizations, MPs and others for his thoughtless comments.

His comments come at a time of rising unemployment, a time when disabled people through the Work Capability Assessment are being moved from Incapacity Benefit to being declared ‘fit for work’ by the maligned Atos group. Atos has already been subject to several investigations on its practices. Davies who has made previous comments suggesting disabled people are ‘scroungers’ now claims that disabled people should be paid less than £5.93 per hour. From scroungers to slave labour!

For years disabled people have argued that employers’ attitudes that perceive disabled people as less productive, regardless of qualification level or previous experience are issues that need tackling through education. The recent changes to Access to Work and the increased levels in the contributions from employers for adjustments have also had a knock-on effect on disabled people getting work. Disabled people are those most likely to be long-term unemployed NOT due to impairment but to ignorance of the very kind an elected MP feels no qualms about displaying. Even our enemy media outlet the Daily Mail condemns Davies.

Davies’ comments set disabled peoples’ opportunities back 20 years. It is the type of prejudice that we would expect from MPs given the raft of misunderstandings around disability that we have endured since the coalition came to power. The irony is that disabled people regardless of qualification are often paid less than their non-disabled colleagues. This is not because of productivity but because employers feel they can get away with it. In 2009 disabled people were paid a gross average of £11.08 compared to £12.30 for non disabled employees (Labour Force Survey 2009). DPAC suspects the differences are wider. These are the issues MPs should be discussing NOT reducing disabled workers wages further.

Davies fails to recognise that disabled people have the right to be paid a living wage, a fair wage, and a wage appropriate to skills and qualifications – and it seems all MPs fail to recognise the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities– a convention setting up disabled peoples’ rights as equal to those of non-disabled people. No one should be considered a second class citizen because they happen to be disabled, nor should they be paid less for the same work.

Tell Davies what you think of his idea by signing the petition at the link below

Take action link: http://www.care2.com/go/z/e/AgjLO/zlRm/CxM4

—————Debbie Jolly

Debbie Jolly

Debbie Jolly

Jun 242011
 

Government cutbacks increasingly threaten disabled people’s right to work. It is now more difficult to qualify for resources from Access to Work; in addition, those with agreed packages are now being systematically examined irrespective of routine review dates with a view to reducing support.

Access to Work is a government programme set up to support people who face barriers to employment as a result of their health or impairment through provision of advice and support with extra costs to both disabled people and their employers.  The programme is critical in upholding the right of disabled people to access mainstream employment and it actually makes a profit for the government: the amount invested in the programme is exceeded by the amount brought in through the taxes of working disabled people and through savings made in benefit payments, social care support and care, and medical costs. The Sayce report into supported employment: “Getting In, Staying In and Getting On” (June 2011) found that for every £1 spent on support through Access to Work, the government recoups £1.48. The Department for Work and Pensions nevertheless has a budget to cut and at a meeting in March 2011 the head of the Access to Work team, Steve Lismore, confirmed that the direction of travel for Access to Work is to reduce resources.

The personal experience of disabled people shows that Access to Work advisors are, in line with this strategy, adopting an attitude as guardians of public money more preciously than ever before. The onus is on the disabled person to prove beyond question the genuineness of their support needs. This is not only intimidating for the disabled person but also counter-productive for the supposed government agenda of getting disabled people off benefits and into work. Many people rely on Access to Work support and without any guarantee of receiving that support would be unable to take up employment offers, however you cannot apply to Access to Work without a guaranteed job and start date. For many disabled people the programme is therefore irrelevant.

For some disabled people Access to Work has traditionally been one of the most supportive and accessible support streams. The programme takes an approach in line with the social model of disability where individual applications are considered on a case-by-case basis and there is an avoidance of policy statements that treat disabled people in groups according to impairment. Members of the Newham Action Hub reported that they received a better service from their Access to Work advisors than from their care managers. For other disabled people, particularly those with more complex support needs, the programme fails to meet their needs. Moreover, as resources are being reduced the wider experience is already less positive, for example, with people being told that Access to Work might possibly not be providing equipment such as wheelchairs in the future. There is a revised list of equipment that has been included in the Access to Work guidance in order to assist advisers in making operational decisions. The effectiveness of the programme is only going to be further compromised under current conditions.

Individuals with impairments with which advisors are not familiar have less chance of being able to make a case for support that is accepted; people with learning difficulties or mental health support needs are frequently told by individual advisors that they are not eligible for ongoing support costs, rendering them unable to stay in or take up employment. In one example a woman was told that people with mental health support needs could not get support costs from Access to Work but could only “be referred to Mind for counselling to get better”. In another example a young man with a learning difficulty was told that Access to Work cannot provide full-time support costs and that he would not be able to get more than 6 hours support per week past the first 6 weeks of his employment, irrespective of any evidence of genuine support need. Experience suggests that current Access to Work policy disadvantages applicants with mental health support needs or learning difficulties. The DWP continues to deny this link but failure to recognise the importance of being seen to be able to provide ongoing support costs means that this under-representation will continue.

As part of a tightening up of resources, Access to Work are contacting all those currently in receipt of support through the programme and reviewing their packages with a view to identifying possible reductions. This is un-nerving for disabled people as, for many, any reduction would mean having to leave their job. People with learning difficulties had to fight to be accepted as eligible for the programme in the first place and advisors have continued to struggle to understand how a person with a learning difficulty can be capable of doing their own job and have support needs at the same time. Pressure to identify reduction therefore brings with it much anxiety. In one example a man’s support worker was contacted without his knowledge to find out from her a task list of things he “can do on his own”. There are very few people with learning difficulties in paid employment – the Office for Disability Issues calculates 6.4% of people labelled moderate to severe. The figure for those who have meaningful jobs with real wages will be lower still. It should be a right of disabled people to work, moreover it is in the taxpayer’s interest to raise the employment aspirations and expectations of disabled people. For Access to Work to risk the few ground-breaking jobs there are for people with learning difficulties in meaningful employment is irresponsible.

The Sayce Report acknowledges the value of the Access to Work and calls for further investment. Let’s hope the government responds to this and uses the programme to effectively support disabled people into work instead of focusing on squeezing support off disabled people to the detriment of the economy.

———-Ellen Clifford

Ellen Clifford

Ellen Clifford

May 222011
 

Merry kindly gave us permission to share her letter to her MP Rob Wilson urging him to support Jeremy Corbyn’s  Early Day Motion.

If you do not know who your MP is – here s a link to Find your MP.

To: robwilsonmp@parliament.uk
Sent: Sat, 21 May 2011 14:06
Subject: disabled people

Hi Rob,

I have just retired,gratefully, it must be said.  But as you know, I am disabled and I’m thoroughly disturbed by the many different ways that life has become harder for disabled people in general and those who work – or try to – in particular.
I have been dependent on Access to Work for many years now.  First they helped me with a special office chair; then I needed a driver and eventually I needed a PA/driver.  Whilst A2W was never perfect, it provided help without which work would have become impossible.  With it, I think I made a small but important contribution to society via my role as a social care inspector.  I am hugely concerned to hear that A2W is facing a cutback in resources.  It is already so hard for most of us to secure employment … but of course when we do, the Treasury benefits because we then pay taxes.
Please support Jeremy Corbyn’s Early Day Motion.  I would also ask you to read the information accumulating about the suffering caused by Atos’s assessments of those claiming Incapacity Benefit (etc).  You can’t be satisfied with the idea that they are causing suicides.  And surely you must take heed of the many voices (including a variety of professional organisations) criticising Atos.  This process MUST be improved dramatically – or scrapped, before it does any more harm.
Yours,
Merry Wahogo
————
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