The number of people on the waiting list for disability employment support has more than quadrupled over the last year.
There were 4,890 workers waiting for a decision on their claim for the Access to Work (AtW) scheme in 2021. However, this figure was as high as 20,909 by the end of March this year, Disability News Service (DNS) revealed as part of a freedom for information request.
In February 2020, there were 8,500 disabled people on the waiting list. This figure rose to 9,280 by August 2021, reached 15,000 in December last year, and carried on climbing till it nearly hit 21,000 by March 22nd 2022.
The Access to Work programme was introduced to help those with a physical or mental health condition to find jobs or stay in work. In addition to providing advice, it offers a grant to contribute towards practical support with work, as well as communication support at job interviews.
However, with so many people still on the waiting list, thousands will be unable to access this support, including sign language interpreters or lip speakers; taxi fares for those who cannot use public transport; a job coach in the workplace; and vehicle adaptations to get to work.
What’s more, the AtW scheme is aimed at helping those with disabilities to get on the jobs market in the first place by providing communication support in interviews. Without this, it has made it considerably harder for them to become successful candidates.
Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people Vicky Foxcroft told the publication the long waiting list is an example of disabled people being left disappointed by failed promises of the government.
“These statistics clearly show minsters’ failure to tackle the long waiting-lists for the Access to Work scheme,” she stated.
Ms Foxcroft suggested the government needs to create a scheme that “works for disabled people, isn’t overly bureaucratic and reduces the disability employment gap”.
The DNS revealed one disabled person applied for AtW in December 2021, was only told in February 2022 of a 12-week delay and that he would be contacted about the claim in mid-April.
Finally, they were appointed a named case manager for their case earlier this month, with the process taking almost half a year.
Speaking with the news provider, they revealed their concerns their hard work studying for qualifications would “all come undone because I couldn’t do my work due to the Access to Work delay”.
Labour MP and chair of the Commons work and pensions committee Stephen Timms also expressed his worry about the backlog of applicants.
“The need for help is often urgent. These delays will be making the disability employment gap even worse,” Mr Timms noted.
Some adjustments employers should implement to make working life easier – or even possible – for disabled people include making physical changes to the workplace, such as fitting ramps or providing special keyboards; allowing staff to work somewhere they can access easily; altering the recruitment process; or offering different provisions, such as a permanent desk as opposed to hot desks.
Other facilities that employers should provide include disability toilets.