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Access to Work

Volume 737: debated on Monday 4 September 2023

11. What steps his Department is taking to help reduce waiting times for Access to Work assessments. (906153)

16. Whether his Department plans to take steps to reduce the time taken by the decision-making process for applications to the Access to Work scheme. (906158)

Access to Work has received a significant increase in applications over the past year and has recruited new staff to meet the increased demand and reduce the time it takes to make decisions. We are also transforming the Access to Work service through increased digitalisation that will make the service more efficient and the application process easier, and improve the time taken from application through to decision.

I think the Minister knows that the waiting times are too long for all applicants, but may I draw his attention to an event in Cambridge that I hosted earlier this year with the local jobcentre where we highlighted job opportunities for the neurodivergent community? Will he tell us what impact these long waits have on people who are neurodivergent?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that, last week, 88% of claims were paid within 10 days and that we are taking steps to drive further improvement. The online application capacity that came on stream in June is a significant part of that, but we are also putting additional staff on to processing claims. We are streamlining various processes to ensure that people get access to that support sooner. Anecdotally, officials are saying that that is beginning to bear fruit. What we are not doing is speeding up that process at the cost of getting the right decision and the right outcome. We will continue to move this forward, and we are already making progress.

A decade ago, the Government’s Sayce review recommended supporting 100,000 disabled people through specialist employment programmes, but, last year, Access to Work helped just 38,000, and Versus Arthritis and other organisations that support people navigate this difficult system saw a tripling in the delays. When will the Department meet the 100,000 target and end the delays hitting disabled people, employers and the UK economy?

Like the hon. Gentleman, I am passionate about the positive difference that Access to Work makes in terms of opening up employment opportunities for people. He will be aware of the passports that we have introduced to help better understand people’s needs and passporting that between jobs and between, for example, education and employment. I refer him back to the steps that we have taken to see improvement in the journey times, but we will continue to work tirelessly to make sure that people get the Access to Work help as quickly as possible.

In January, it was found that the Access to Work backlog had trebled since February 2020, rising to more than 25,000. In June, the Minister claimed additional resource was being put into Access to Work. Will he inform the House exactly how many additional staff are working to clear the backlog and when he expects it to return to pre-pandemic levels? His Government say that they want to get more people into work, yet disabled people are missing out on jobs because of unacceptable delays at the DWP.

For the House’s benefit, let me provide the full-time equivalent staffing levels in the Access to Work team a full six months ago and once the staff at Bradford have moved to Access to Work. The figure stood at 375.22 full-time equivalents in March 2023, and at 462.84 on 4 September 2023. That figure is expected to stand at 530.41 full-time equivalents by the end of October 2023 with the additional staff moving to the Access to Work team in Bradford. I direct the hon. Lady’s attention again to the figure from last week that 88% of claims were paid within 10 days. This is a priority for me as the Minister for Disabled People and for the Department as a whole.