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Access to Work Programme

Volume 498: debated on Monday 2 November 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what changes her Department plans to make to the Access to Work programme in support of the Government's Valuing Employment Now strategy; and if she will make a statement. (294739)

[holding answer 21 October 2009]: The Government are fully committed to ensuring that individuals are able to achieve their full potential and ambitions for work. This includes providing services which better meet the needs of the Public Service Agreement 16 customer group, which includes people with moderate to severe learning disabilities.

With this in mind, the Government launched 'Valuing Employment Now: real jobs for people with learning disabilities' on 24 June 2009. Our aspiration is to close the gap between the employment rate for people with learning disabilities and that of the disabled population as a whole. In real terms this means an extra 45,000 people with learning disabilities in employment.

Access to Work is an important specialist disability employment service delivered by Jobcentre Plus, and therefore will be vital in achieving this aspiration. We are currently exploring how we can ensure that the programme provides the most flexible, responsive and appropriate support for all customers, and to ensure that the funding is focussed on those who need it most, including customers with learning disabilities.

Currently customers are limited to 26 weeks of job coach support. From this autumn we will be making the programme more flexible to ensure that people who require further job coaching can access the service for longer. We anticipate this will be particularly helpful for customers with learning disabilities.

In making the changes to job coaching rules for Access to Work, we will ensure that customers who would be better supported by other provisions such as WORKSTEP and its successor Work Choice (from October 2010) are referred to the most appropriate service for their needs.

The Welfare Reform White Paper 'Raising expectations and increasing support: reforming welfare for the future' contained a commitment to double the Access to Work budget from £69 million to £138 million by 2013-14. This was a confirmation of the announcement originally made in the Welfare Reform Green Paper 'No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility'.

In addition, Access to Work customers have been able to apply for support to participate in a Jobcentre Plus Work Trial since 1 April 2009. Work Trials give customers the opportunity to 'try out' work, and also builds employer confidence in their ability to do the job. Work Trials can last from a few days to six weeks and because there is a genuine job vacancy at the end they are a direct route into paid employment. This may be another route in to meaningful work for people with learning disabilities.