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Monday, 18 December 2017

Campaigners launch legal action over Access to Work funding cap

Written by Jon Vale

Campaigners have launched legal action against the Government over a cap in funding for a flagship scheme to help disabled people back into work.

The challenge over Access to Work concerns a cap on the amount of money people can be awarded through the scheme, which it is argued will disproportionately affect deaf people and those with high needs.

It comes days after Theresa May unveiled a strategy to help get a million more disabled people into work over the next decade, including reforms to Access to Work.

But it also comes amid mounting concern over how the scheme is currently operating.

A cap on Access to Work funding will fully come into force in April, limiting the amount any individual can get through the scheme to £43,100, one-and-a-half times the national average salary.

DWP says this will allow the programme to help as many people as possible, while funding for the scheme is on the rise.

However, campaigners argue the cap will hit deaf people and those with high needs especially hard, limiting funding for specialist support such as sign language interpreters.

Claimant David Buxton said: "This case is being brought because the Government has made the decision to limit my career by denying me the funds to pay for the linguistic access I need to be able to fulfil my job."

Mr Buxton, who is deaf, says he uses sign language interpreters at meetings and putting a cap on awards made no economic sense.

"For every £1 I am awarded for Access to Work, I give back in taxes by virtue of being employed," he said.

"The impact of Access to Work is far-reaching and extremely positive. Awarding Access to Work makes sense, a cap on Access to Work awards doesn't."

Access to Work provides cash payments to help disabled people find and keep jobs, paying for things like transport, workplace adaptations and support workers.

DWP first introduced a cap on grants for new claims in October 2015, with the cap being introduced for existing claimants from April.

However, some claimants argue they are unable to get interpreters to work for the sums now being offered through Access to Work, with many interpreters working on higher freelance rates.

The legal case is being brought under the Equality Act 2010 with funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Ellen Clifford (pictured), campaigns and policy manager at Inclusion London, which is supporting the legal challenge, said: "The cap is already having a serious negative impact on deaf and disabled people's employment.

"Deaf and disabled people are frustrated and anxious at the risk of unemployment and benefit dependency, which will come at a much higher cost to the state than the support package they need to remain in work."

A report by Inclusion London says 90% of those affected by the cap will be deaf.

The Government's proposed improvements to Access to Work include a trial of personalised budgets, better mental health support and workplace assessments for those with the highest needs.

The number of deaf people with Access to Work provision approved in 2016/17 rose by 13% compared to the year before.

A DWP spokeswoman said: "We've set out a commitment to see one million more disabled people in work by 2027, and Access to Work forms an important part of our plans.

"A real terms increase in funding for the scheme was announced in the Spending Review, and last year 25,000 people had their request approved by Access to Work, an increase of 8% from 2015/16.

"The award limit was introduced to enable the programme to continue to help as many people as possible, and we're taking steps to make more people aware of the scheme by working with employers, charities and health professionals."

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