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Access to Work

Problems behind the scenes cause more delays for disabled people relying on the government's Access to Work programme. Also, why vets are over-prescribing antibiotics for pets.

Continuing problems behind the scenes at the Government's Access to Work programme is leaving disabled people facing long delays in receiving support in the workplace. Why vets are over-prescribing antibiotics for pets, what the new £1 coin will mean for the hundreds of thousands of vending machines, car parks and automatic tills across the UK. Plus, we're at the Paris Motor Show to assess why UK car sales are bucking the international trend and staying buoyant.

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45 minutes


  • Access To Work

    Backroom problems continue to cause delays in Access to Work payments

    Duration: 11:57

  • New £1 Coin

    Vending machine owners face a big bill when the new £1 coin is introduced

    Duration: 05:37

  • Payday Lenders

    Wonga says it won't retrospectively refund people who took out loans they could not repay

    Duration: 03:37

  • Vet Antibiotics

    The dangers of vets prescribing antibiotics freely to pets

    Duration: 05:58

  • Paris Motor Show

    Why UK new car sales remain so buoyant

    Duration: 06:28

  • New £1 Coin

    A designer of coins judges listeners design plans for the new coin

    Duration: 03:45

Transcript of Access to Work Discussion

Peter: Now, Access to Work once described as the government best kept secret, gives disabled the people the support they need to work and make a living. It could be providing a reader for blind people a support worker if you have a physical disability or even something as simple as a driver. We’ve reported on this programme about changes behind the scenes that have caused long delays in payments and supports, a call centre replacing individual advisors and people being told they don’t earn enough to justify the service. Charities have told us the situation is getting worse and something needs to be done urgently and Parliament and Health Ombudsman says it's now received complaints and is looking into how the service is provided. But the Government says the programme is helping more than thirty five thousand people and has had its funding increased by fifteen million pounds during this Parliament. We're going to spend a few minutes looking at the impact of the delays on deaf people. Kathy Turner lives in Bristol. She works with deaf people on a daily basis:


Kathy: We’re a sign language agency so if a deaf person who is a BSL sign language user needs an interpreter to do their job, normally they will procure their own freelance interpreters, however we come in to play for last minute bookings.


Peter: And in a work context, how crucial is this for your clients?


Kathy: Sometimes it’s incredibly crucial. Obviously I can’t talk in detail about the clients that we deal with but some of them have very important jobs.


Peter: So, what changes have you noticed recently in the way Access to Work is operating?


Kathy: It’s been very catastrophic to be honest; our deaf clients aren’t having the funds available to them now in order to come to agencies for these last minute bookings which means instead of getting on with their job they’re often finding they’re  scrabbling around themselves trying to find interpreters instead of doing the job for which their paid. Not only that, were finding that the rates of Access to Work have been radically cut beyond sustainability. Freelance interpreters are looking at taking cuts of about 20% and agencies are looking at taking cuts of about 40%, which means if we provide interpreters at these rates, we’re actually operating at a loss. A lot of our clients have had reviews unbeknown to them and they’re receiving letters saying actually we’ve reviewed your needs and we’re cutting the hours and costs allocated to you and in certain cases these cuts are being applied retrospectively which means that people are not being paid. We certainly know that there are cases out there where people haven’t even been told that their Access to Work has been cut completely and as a result have carried on booking interpreters for which there is no funding available.


Peter:  So, people are working and then not getting paid for it


Kathy: Interpreters are, in certain cases, thousands of pounds out of pocket. So you can imagine this is quite catastrophic and is very embarrassing for the deaf client. A lot of them are exhausted because of dealing with Access to Work. We know of cases where people have been promoted and had their funding cut radically so they’re not actually able to do the job for which they’re being paid because they can’t get the support they need, so they’re being set up to fail.


Peter: In terms of deaf peoples’ independence, what affect do you think this is having?


Kathy: If you look at things that are happening to the deaf community, I think is setting the deaf community back around 100 years because now they are actually having to rely on people to help them and then we’re going in to the helper mode of interpreter provision and this is the problem because deaf people are having to phone up Access to Work with an interpreter and they’re wasting their hours making these phone calls instead of doing their job. They’re calling a call centre where they say ‘we’ll get somebody to call you back within the next seven days’ but the reality is, are they going to have an interpreter with them at that time Access to Work call them back, it’s crazy.


Peter: Kathy Turner. This morning I spoke to Rachael Parker who is profoundly deaf. She runs an online business and was happily using Access to Work from 2001 until October last year when, after a review, she was told they were cutting the hours and amount she could pay her Communication Support Worker, or CSW, by a very large amount. There is a slight delay in this interview while Rachael's CSW, Jen, translates my questions and Rachael's answers:


Rachael: Well yes, I was backwards and forwards arguing with them and unfortunately the Access to Work advisor wasn’t very responsive to be honest and ignored my e-mails. I tried to call to get some help and support with what was going on, I wanted to know why they’d cut it. They sent me to an appeals team and the manager agreed with the advisors decision. They advised me to go higher again, to her manager, and the same thing happened. I felt their letter was very scripted, if you know what I mean, and I felt that I was being treated like everybody else but my needs are really different to that of other deaf people so why are you sort of sending me a standardised letter. Also, they missed a lot of my questions that I was asking which related to my support. They weren’t really responding to me at all.


Peter: So what affect has this had on your business?


Rachael: Well, because of the pay cut clearly my CSW refused to work for me because they could get another job with better pay elsewhere so it meant I didn’t have a CSW, there was nobody there. I was sat there twiddling my thumbs whilst the phones were ringing. It meant I couldn’t do anything and I couldn’t pick up the phones. There were 72 missed calls at one point, it was pretty bad and I lost a lot of business through this.


Peter: Do you think you are still losing potential clients?


Rachael: Because I feel so strongly about it and I’ve been very adamant about getting my hours back, I’ve been arguing it from February until last week really, trying to get my hours back. I chose to go via the Reconsideration Team and asked them to reconsider my case. Nearly 24 hours later they decided to give me back my hours and my pay, the right pay. I just thought, why did it take the previous team so long, they still haven’t got back to me actually, they haven’t responded to me in seven months but it took the Reconsideration Team just 24 hours, it seems such a dramatic difference. Luckily for me my business has kept going and can continue to keep going as I have a CSW now.      


Peter: What do you think the long term prospect is for you, given the problems you’ve had in the past few months?


Rachael: It’s got a three month probation my new case actually, so I’m still kind of in limbo, I’m not really sure where I stand. I’m just making sure that I’m collecting evidence and keeping a review and showing them proof that I still need a CSW and I’m using my CSW. I might be on probation again for another three months, I just don’t know. I’m still very on edge about it all to be honest.


Peter: Now, the government has told us that it’s reviewing the operations of Access to Work so that it can help more people. Surely it is good that more people might get the support that you’ve got


Rachael: Well yes, it varies really. They say they will support people but I’ve been in contact with my local MP who passed on my concerns and issues and the response I got from the government was like oh well, you’re lucky you’ve got Access to Work and you’ve had it for all of these years, they weren’t very sympathetic or concerned about me or worried about my business. I didn’t get that support from the government to be honest.


Peter: Are you still worried?


Rachael: Yes I am, yes. I’m really stressed and anxious.


Peter: Rachael Parker speaking to me through her Communications Support Worker Jen. We asked the Department for Work and Pensions to come on and tell us what is going at Access to Work but no one was available. The Labour opposition Shadow Disabilities Minister Kate Green is available however. She's with me in the studio: Kate, we heard there about the impact on deaf people. Access to Work is a programme that helps thirty-five thousand people with different types of disabilities and a select committee of MPs is looking in to what is going on. Do you know what is going on?


Kate: I wish I did. It’s really depressing and worrying to hear stories like Rachael’s and we know they’re not at all uncommon. It doesn’t make any sense; I mean Access to Work is a good programme. It’s been very good for a number of years, supporting deaf and other disabled people and supporting employers to employ disabled people. The government says that is wants people to be in work and it wants Access to Work to be successful to help them yet it’s making it really difficult for people like Rachael to get the support they need.


Peter: And to be fair, the Government told us it has expanded Access to Work and has even increased the budget by an extra fifteen million pounds. They seem to be trying to give the service to more people. What would you do better?


Kate: Well I’m very puzzled about what is going on. It is true that the government has been spending more but the number of people that have been benefiting has actually been falling from 2009/2010, so where is the money going?  It may be that a smaller number of people with higher needs are getting more support but it may be that admin and bureaucracy is using up all of the budget. I think one of the other problems there is Peter, is that a lot of employers and potential employees don’t know about Access to Work. Employers are frightened to take on disabled people, they think they wouldn’t be able to afford it and wouldn’t be able to cope.


Peter: On the other hand, if they can’t look after the people that are there at the moment, it could be dangerous to expand


Kate: And, people are likely to lose jobs, as we heard from Rachael’s example. It means that work or business may become impossible in the future for people who do work. One of the things we would do is make sure we really promote it very very well to employees and individuals and another thing I think we need to do is change the culture in the Department of Work and pensions, so it’s not about saying no to people and putting barriers in their way, it’s about educating civil servants to know we want this money out there to help disabled people work.


Peter: But to be fair, there’s a feeling that Labour has itself been reticent about its spending plans for disability. If this is about money you're going to have the same problem, aren't you?


Kate: The government say it’s not about money and indeed we are quite puzzled about what’s been happening to some of the money that we thought would be available to support disabled people through Access to Work and other programmes. So for example, the government commissioned a report a couple of years ago from the Disability Advisor, Liz Sayce. Liz said that Access to Work is a good programme but it’s the governments best kept secret. She also said rather than maintaining people working in sheltered reemploy factories, we could use that money better to help more disabled people through Access to Work and through other programmes. So we don’t know what’s happened to that money, so I don’t think the issue is fundamentally about money in this case Peter, I think it’s about intention and will.


Peter: Kate Green, thank you very much indeed.


  • Fri 3 Oct 2014 12:15

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