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Monday, 18 December 2017

Access to Work claimant says Government thinks disabled people cost too much

Written by Jon Vale

Disabled people are seen as a burden on society "because the Government thinks we cost too much money", an Access to Work claimant has said.

Julie Fernandez is an actor, trainer and entrepreneur who sold her craft business at the beginning of the year and is now working in a range of different areas.

She has brittle bone disease and is a wheelchair user, and had previously struggled to get Access to Work support.

Ms Fernandez (pictured) now has a support worker funded through the scheme until October 2018, to carry out tasks such as driving her to venues and helping her around.

Ms Fernandez, though, says she nearly lost this support over the summer due to an administrative error, which she says is symptomatic of a system that is difficult to navigate.

She received a letter saying her award had run out in June.

This left her wondering how else she would fund her support worker's wages, and Ms Fernandez says she spent "ages" trying to get payment from Access to Work.

She eventually, and coincidentally, spoke to a DWP employee who she had previously had contact with, who was able to sort out her payments and get agreement for a new award.

"Some days I sat there crying. My career of 25 years could have been over," she said.

"Because of the difficulties I've had with Access to Work over the last couple of months I've actually lost weight and feel sick every day with worry.

"There's lots of challenges that come with being disabled. With the right support, many of us can work and play an active part in the communities we live in.

"But everything's getting harder. The problems with Access to Work are reflected in the cuts impacting on disabled people around benefits, social care and other services.

"We are seen as a burden in our society because the Government thinks we cost too much money."

Philip Connolly, policy manager at Disability Rights UK, said many disabled people would not be able to stay in employment without the scheme.

"Yet the Government seems unwilling to either promote it or encourage people to use it," he said.

"Changes in recent years have seen short-sighted cuts to staffing numbers, levels of awards, and layers of bureaucracy which make it hard for disabled people to navigate the system."

Neil Gray, the SNP's social justice spokesman at Westminster, added: "Access to Work has the potential to play a big role in the UK Government's pledge to cut the disability employment gap, a pledge which was sadly greatly reduced at the snap election.

"However, it is clear Access to Work is underutilised and under advertised.

"That is a great concern and I hope the UK Government will now do more to promote access to work and work better with business and other employers to encourage them to employ people with disabilities and long term health conditions."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Matt Alexander / PA Wire.