Over the past few years, the benefits available to disabled people in the UK have been changing. And these changes risk making disabled people more lonely and isolated.
Access to Work is the branch of the Department for Work and Pensions which provides financial aid to support disabled people to work. Access to Work grants support more than 30,000 people each year to gain and maintain access to the jobs and careers of their choice. However, recent reports suggest that AtW is cutting its grants. Over the past 5 years individuals have spoken out against the appalling treatment they have received from Access to Work staff and numerous official complaints have been directed at the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman with regards to bullying, delays and mismanagement within the system. The number of new cases that AtW grants has been reducing every year, and it seems that practically every individual who benefits from Access to Work grants has had their level of support cut after undergoing a mandatory case review.
These reports are particularly concerning because the funds granted by Access to Work enable disabled people to engage in their chosen career: contributing to their sectors, organisations and the wider economy, paying taxes and employing others. Disabled people have the right to work on an equal basis to others in the workforce, and the DWP’s grants are central to this. They also make sound economic sense: there is a significant return on investment, with AtW recipients contributing £1.48 in National Insurance and Income Tax for every £1 of grant spent.
The Access to Work system is deeply flawed. A mandatory review of every beneficiary’s case takes place every 3 years, and as the reports show, many of these end with a reduction in the support offered. This leaves disabled people in a position of instability with their employability potentially jeopardised by the outcome of the review. The anxiety and stress caused by this situation is damaging for people’s mental health, and leaves many unable to make plans about their jobs or careers beyond the next case review. AtW recipients who have their grants cut are left to struggle without the support that they need, in some your-pharmacies.com cases making it impossible for them to do their job. This is neither fair nor sustainable.
We know that there are strong links between unemployment, poverty and loneliness. People in work have the opportunity to meet others and the financial means to socialise in their spare time. Those who are isolated through unemployment and poverty do not have these opportunities. By making it more difficult for disabled people to do their jobs Access to Work is at best causing unnecessary stress and instability; at worse they are forcing disabled people out of work and into an equally diminishing benefits system.
And AtW is not the only system which is leaving disabled people worse off. The new Personal Independence Payment scheme (PIP) was introduced by the DWP as a ‘more sustainable benefit’ than its predecessor the Disability Living Allowance (DLA). However, reports are now claiming that the scheme is actually harder to access than the DLA and is leaving disabled people in a worse position than they were before.
To ensure a fair system, these benefits need to be statutory. Consistent, on-going financial support would allow disabled people to gain the educational and employment opportunities needed to contribute socially and economically to society. Relying on a temporary government grant does not. And the financial and emotional insecurity which goes hand-in-hand with these unstable grants leads directly to worse physical, social and mental wellbeing and an increase in loneliness and social isolation – all of which are damaging for both the individual and our wider society.
Now more than ever the UK economy needs to strengthen and grow, which means that we need a system which works for everyone. We are calling on the Department of Work and Pensions to reform the current system and deliver on the government’s commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There needs to be a more transparent, sustainable system which facilitates the employment of disabled people and values the contribution that disabled people make to society.
This is not just about making a social and moral judgement – it makes sound long-term economic sense. An improved system is in the interests of all our citizens and our economy at large.