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Access to Work

Volume 547: debated on Wednesday 4 July 2012

This Government are committed to ensuring that the protected budget for disability employment helps more disabled people into work.

Access to Work provides support for transport to work, support workers and specialist adaptations and equipment over and above that which is a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act. It can provide essential support not only for people with physical impairments but also for people with learning disabilities and mental health conditions.

We know that Access to Work is a highly effective programme which currently helps around 35,000 disabled people in work each year. Liz Sayce’s review of specialist disability employment provision highlighted Access to Work’s effectiveness. However, she also called it the “best kept secret in Government”. We do not think it is right for Access to Work to be a hidden success and expanding, strengthening and modernising this programme will make work and choice of work possible for many more disabled people.

We have already announced an extra £15 million for Access to Work and plans to launch a targeted marketing campaign. Today I am announcing more about the marketing campaign and other key changes to improve the programme so that it can support more disabled people into work.

We are building awareness with individuals who could benefit from Access to Work and employers looking to recruit or retain a disabled person. We know that certain groups of disabled people, such as those with mental health conditions and those aged 16 to 24 do not benefit from the programme as much as they could. We have therefore launched a 12-month targeted marketing campaign to actively encourage more people from these under-represented groups to use Access to Work.

We are focusing on regions where Access to Work is not widely used, such as in Wales. We will seek to use the disabled people’s user-led organisation ambassador for Wales to increase awareness of the benefits of Access to Work. We will also work with key stakeholders and charities in Wales to understand why take-up is lower and how they can increase the number of disabled people supported in Wales.

We will use the most appropriate channels to reach these audiences, including human resources departments of large employers to increase understanding among those with mental health conditions and user-led organisation ambassadors. We will also work with small and medium-sized enterprises to promote Access to Work within organisations that may not be aware of how it can help them recruit or retain a disabled person.

I am also announcing today some changes we are making to help young people through Access to Work.

From the autumn Access to Work will be available to support young disabled people undertaking voluntary work experience under the youth contract. This change will help thousands of young disabled people take their first significant step towards employment by supporting them to benefit from a voluntary work experience placement over the next three years.

We will also do more to raise awareness of Access to Work among young people in education. Our targeted marketing campaign will focus on this group by working with careers advisors to raise the programme’s profile, and working with charities and other organisations involved in supporting young people as they move out of secondary education.

Looking more widely across Government, from autumn we will support the Department for Education’s supported internships for 16 to 25-year-olds with the most complex learning difficulties or disabilities. We will ensure that Access to Work provision is in place to support young people accessing the supported internship trials, enabling them to receive a seamless package of support as they move from education into employment where their internship results in the offer of a job.

These changes are the first steps in our programme to ensure that Access to Work is expanded to help more people, including young people.

On 7 March I confirmed that we would be accepting all of Liz Sayce’s recommendations on Access to Work, subject to further co-production with disabled people and employers to ensure that we get these right. We have already started work to implement some of the more straightforward changes such as strengthening the pre-employment eligibility letter and introducing a stronger triage system of Access to Work applicants. Today I am announcing that we have established an expert advisory panel to consider Liz Sayce’s other recommendations and advise the Department on the best way to take them forward.

But we want to go further than this. We want considerable modernisation of Access to Work. So we will also be asking the panel to make its own recommendations on how to significantly improve the programme. It will consider fundamental questions such as alternative delivery options and how to improve the programme on an operational level to make it more efficient. The panel will report on these fundamental questions in the new year.

I have asked Mike Adams OBE to lead the panel. Mike has a wealth of experience working for disability organisations and I look forward to working with him on this important task.

This programme of work—from protected budget to dramatic expansion—represents the most radical review of Access to Work in the programme’s history and reflects the Government’s commitment to build on Liz Sayce’s work and deliver disability employment support fit for the 21st century.