Work and Pensions Select Committee Report Findings Summary

If you haven’t caught up yet with the release of the Work and Pensions Select Committee report and its recommendations, published on 19th December, here is a round up.
With over 350 submissions of evidence to the committee, some in BSL, it was shown just how many people had experienced problems with Access to Work, either as users of the scheme or as professionals supplying a service.
Even the oral evidence sessions caused a furore with no access for Deaf people and some evidence sessions not being televised. Or they were but there was no interpreter present.
The report set out several recommendations which organisations can now use to further lobby ministers to implement.
The report highlighted how damaging actions taken by this government have been and how little consultation they did prior to detrimental changes which could have so easily been avoided:
– imposition of the 30 hour rule for support workers on BSL interpreters leaving Deaf people struggling to employ interpreters who did not want to be employed
– applying guidance as a rule and changing the guidance so frequently that users were left with no knowledge of what it was
– targeting high cost users and cutting support without warning
– imposing review periods of three months leaving people unsure about whether to book support or not
– changing the address to a mail handling centre without notifying anyone so invoices were late by more than two months causing providers to borrow money to pay their mortgages and nursery bills
– there are many more examples…
The Committee is to be applauded on its clarity. NUBSLI has found it hard to gather information when so little is made available by the DWP. In meetings where interpreter organisations are present, internal figures are quoted which when asked for in freedom of information (FOI) requests seem to disappear. In a culture of secrecy and obfuscation it has taken months of work on FOIs by NUBSLI members to get to the bottom of how the AtW budget is worked out and what it is set at along with a general lack of available statistical information. The Office for NationalStatistics has not called the DWP the worst department for nothing. This work is still ongoing as answers to FOIs by the DWP tend to reveal little.
Under this government you can also trace the changing statements made online. In 2012, the government accepted the recommendations made by the Sayce report. After that you can then see via published statements and answers to questions in Hansard that previously protected budgets become protected over longer spending review periods, millions go missing and the same recommendations from Sayce are still being made about how government should view AtW.
Budgets which are protected, then changed to have protected averages over three years amount to a lot less when spend in the first year means budgets in the following years are protected at a far lower amount. Especially when announcements are made in the second year when spend has already occurred. To anyone looking at the figures there was nothing protected. After averages are worked out the AtW budget was actually cut by millions in the very year the government accepted recommendations, made announcements and was effectively cut again the year after.
Another shock this year was the missing millions thankfully picked up again by the Committee. £80 million in fact. This could have nearly doubled the AtW budget, in the way that was talked about as not being possible in the last evidence session by the Minister of State for Disabled People, Mark Harper MP. The previously promised increase in AtW spend has not materialised. What is more shocking is that the only people campaigning about this are Stop Changes and the organisations involved in supporting the campaign such as DPAC and NUBSLI.
There was another £15 million promised that later, in announcements, become spread over three years which does not appear to be included in the spend.
For organisations and parts of the media to talk about interpreter salaries without challenging the government about cuts, or worse being in agreement with making cuts, has done a disservice to the Deaf community and has been nothing but damaging. At best this is ignorance, at worse working to a government agenda that align’s with ones own rather than the wider community.
There are recommendations by Sayce that are elaborated on in the Committee’s report such as the way AtW is viewed by the government and how budgets are calculated and spent.
In summary:
– AtW produces a return on investment by way of lower benefit claims and should be treated as such within overall DWP budgets (look up the DEL-AME switch)
– AtW produces a return on investment by way of increased tax payers in work so HM Treasury could give money back to DWP to reflect this
Let’s hope we do not have a repeat of 2012 where recommendations are ‘accepted’, statements made but yet the reality gets worse.
Let’s hope we see a materialisation of the £95 million and budgets are actually doubled as promised.
Let’s hope, really hope, that everyone agrees that talk of cuts are nonsensical, government is challenged on this, that they see AtW as an investment and we should all work together to make the recommendations in the report a reality.
More information:
Work and Select Committee press release and report
Stop Changes response to Committee’s report
NUBSLI response to the Committee’s report
DPAC blog

Government makes Access to Work Scheme guidance public following challenge by law firm

Originally posted on Leigh Day’s website, the legal firm challenging DWP on its guidance and the reason Stop Changes have been raising money for a fighting fund.
Blogged by Stop Changes and reblogged here:
Please see below from Leigh Day. Item published on their website.
22 December 2014
The Department of Work and Pensions has agreed to publish their guidance on the Access to Work Scheme (AtW) after receiving a letter before claim from the law firm Leigh Day. The DWP have also confirmed that revised guidance is being produced and published, which they hope to commence by 30 March 2015.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the campaign group ‘Stop Changes to Access to Work’, highlighted in a letter before claim that the DWP had acted unlawfully in having no officially published guidance for the scheme, thus meaning that potential claimants did not know the criteria for eligibility or the rules that would be applied to their claims, claimants were also unaware when changes were made to the guidance and the nature of those changes.
The Access to Work Scheme is delivered by the DWP through Jobcentre Plus and is designed to help people with disabilities to overcome work related obstacles. This includes the provision of grants that fund practical support for people with a disability to start working, to stay in work, to start a business, or to become self-employed.
Within their letter before claim Leigh Day also addressed issues relating to the ‘30 hour rule’, which they described as an example of the ‘apparently inconsistent, unlawful and opaque’ way the AtW scheme has been applied by the DWP.
In June 2011, the guidance of AtW was changed so that those receiving over 30 hours of assistance from a support worker could only claim for this on the basis of an annual salary of up to £30,000, rather than for an hourly rate of an agency worker.
The ’30 hour rule’ was suspended in May 2014 as the AtW underwent review over a three month period.
As there was previously no published guidance any updates made to the 30-hour rule were unknown, leaving the public unaware of the current and future status of the ruling.
Lawyers at Leigh Day requested in their letter that the DWP revisited the AtW grants of all those affected by the ’30 hour rule’ and reinstated the funding that they were entitled to prior to its implementation.
However, the DWP responded by saying that they felt it was not appropriate to review every case which was subject to the 30 hour rule.
Ugo Hayter, a solicitor in the Human Rights department at Leigh Day who is representing the ‘Stop Changes to Access to Work’ group, said: “We welcome the Department of Work and Pension’s decision to publish their current guidance as well as their revised guidance in March 2015.
“Their previous failure to publish this vital information meant that public access to this was denied, which we believe was unlawful.
“We now urge for the issues raised in relation to the ‘30 hour rule’ to be re-considered as many people had their support by the Access to Work scheme arbitrarily cut or suspended through this rule, which put their employment and businesses at risk. We believe that this requires a full investigation and for action to be taken to reverse any outstanding cases where the 30 hour rule is still being applied.”
Ellen Clifford, on behalf of Stop Changes to Access to Work, said: “We are pleased by this victory and welcome the DWP announcing that they will publish guidance. This is a first step in the right direction in solving the numerous issues with the Access to Work scheme.
“However, the weaknesses in DWP’s administration of the programme are still prevalent, this is putting AtW users’ employment and their businesses at serious risk.
“We hope that the DWP will consult and communicate with AtW users; make consistent and lawful decisions and take urgent steps to reinstate the funding to which users were entitled prior to the imposition of the 30-rule.”
Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.
The 30 hour rule was also subject to criticism to the Select Committee.
We are currently looking at the next steps which need to be taken, but are delighted by this response.