David Buxton Chief Executive at Action on Disability has won the right to challenge the Government on Access to Work rules which come into full force in April 2018. The High Court has ruled that a legal challenge of the Access to Work cap can go ahead. The case is being brought under the Equality Act 2010 with funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The restrictions were introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions to limit the amount of support that individuals can be awarded by the once flagship disability employment scheme. Mr. Buxton has said,
“I am extremely pleased to learn that my case has been granted a hearing on the basis that I have an arguable case that the Government has acted unlawfully. The two key issues being heard relate to the public sector equality duty and indirect discrimination. As a Chief Executive, it cannot be right that my career is impacted by limiting my language and communication needs because I am Deaf and use British Sign Language. There is some way to go yet but the support from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and my legal team are signs that this is a case which could challenge and change existing practices, decisions and future provision.”
The launch of his challenge comes after the government published its disability employment strategy which has a target of getting one million more disabled people into work. The new ATW cap disproportionately effects Deaf BSL users and places them at a disadvantage in the workplace. Research commissioned by Inclusion London and published in October 2017, described AtW as
“a cornerstone of the movement for equality and civil rights for Deaf and disabled people in the UK”
but found that the future of the AtW scheme was in jeopardy because of
and a cost-cutting drive to reduce people’s support packages.
Campaigns and policy manager Ellen Clifford from Inclusion London, whose Disability Justice Project is supporting the legal challenge, said,
“The cap is already having a serious negative impact on Deaf and Disabled people’s employment. On the one hand the Government says they want to reduce the disability employment gap and get another million disabled people into work, yet here is a disability employment scheme with a track record of success where cuts to individual awards, delays, changes and continual administrative errors are combining to the point where it is no longer a viable form of support.
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.”
Geraldine O’Halloran, co-founder of #StopChanges2AtW said,
“The idea put forward by the government that employers will pay for the support that Deaf and Disabled people need in order to do their jobs on an equal basis with non-disabled people is nonsense. However much an employer values you, the majority of employers don’t have the spare money to effectively pay to take on Deaf or Disabled staff. Yet in the bigger picture it benefits the government to invest in disability employment support with research showing that the Treasury makes a surplus on investment for every pound invested in Access to Work and that’s before the wider benefits of savings to the NHS and social care are taken into consideration.”
The research which was carried out before the cap took effect found that almost half of respondents to a survey carried out by #StopChanges2AtW had experienced changes to their Access to Work package with “cuts” or “cost cutting” as the most frequently given reason.
The report also found evidence of rationing strategies being deployed at various levels including more frequent re-assessment, often leading to a reduced award, tighter eligibility criteria, and increased restrictions on the use and portability of support, especially for the self-employed.
More than half of respondents said they found Access to Work difficult to use, with one in four reporting severe difficulty. Many respondents said they effectively lost support because the processes for claiming Access to Work has become so complex and protracted with a dramatic rise in administrative problems so that the scheme was no longer a viable form of employment support.
Nearly all of those experiencing changes said they had impacted negatively on their work, reducing their standard of work or their productivity. In the worst cases people had lost their job, turned down work or reduced their income as a result of the changes. Many respondents reported a personal, as well as professional, impact from the changes: through stress, poorer health, and loss of self-esteem or confidence due to feeling “like a burden”.