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Skill National Bureau for Students with Disabilities

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					Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities

Improving Specialist Disability Employment Services
DWP Consultation

Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities promotes opportunities to
empower young people and adults with any kind of disability to realise their potential
in further, continuing and higher education, training and employment throughout the
United Kingdom. Skill works by providing information and advice to individuals,
promoting good practice and influencing policy in partnership with disabled people,
service providers and policy makers.



1. Are there any points in the evidence-base that you either strongly agree with
or strongly disagree with?

Overall, Skill strongly agrees with the emphasis placed throughout Improving
Specialist Disability Employment Services on “progression”. It is important that those
able to progress are not held back, but are encouraged and supported to achieve
their potential.

Skill is disappointed that more reference has not been made to young disabled
people and the needs of those leaving education and entering work for the first time.
Skill is a member of the Transition Information Network (TIN) who is responding
specifically on this issue. Skill supports their comments and response. This is
especially disappointing in light of the Departments commitment in Progression
Through Partnership1 to joint working with other Departments and to the needs of
disabled people in education and training. Skill recommends that the Department
consider and reflect on the needs of young disabled people as a particular
group in need of particular support and information.

Skill welcomes the small reference (Chapter 1, point 29) to the role of the Department
in facilitating the transition between childhood and adulthood, but it must be
recognised that young disabled people aged 16 are twice as likely than their non-
disabled peers to be not in education employment or training (NEET) and this rises to
three times more like by the age of 192. Whilst Skill would not want to reduce any
work done with those with complex needs who are unemployed, supporting and
engaging those leaving education at this stage of their lives will have a great impact
for the young person and society as a whole. If work is not done with this group,
young education leavers remain disengaged and excluded from employment into
their adult lives. The Education and Employment of Disabled Young People:
frustrated ambition found that although young disabled people were encouraged to
aim high, at the age of 26 they were two and a half times as likely to be unemployed

1
  Progression Through Partnership (2007) Department for Work and Pensions, Department for
Education and Skills (as was) and Department for Health
2
  Disability, Skills and Work: Raising our ambitions (2007, p14) Stepehn Evans for SMF and DRC
than non-disabled peers3. Skill recommends that the Department link with the
Independent Living Strategy’s4 work on transition to adulthood which will
include access to an advisor or key worker. Skill strongly believes that there is
a need for more cross-Department working in supporting disabled people.

Skill strongly agrees that the Department should be better able to help people
prepare for the transition from education to employment (Chapter 2, point 14). It must
be recognised though that the needs of young disabled people making this transition
can be different from those of long-term benefit claimants. This issue therefore is not
just one of priorities, but also one of staff development. There is a skills training need
amongst Disability Employment Advisers, as they are currently not equipped to meet
the needs of those preparing for and going through the transition from education to
employment.

Joined-up thinking and joined-up services are needed for specialist employment
services to achieve the goals of gaining, retaining and progressing in employment.
Skill welcomed the Government strategy Progression Through Partnership and would
like to see more reference to this way of working (Chapter 1, Box 3).

Skill is unconvinced that providing specialist services based on impairment type is
inherently un-inclusive (Chapter 2, point 32) and this suggestion is in fact a
contradiction. Statistics demonstrate that disabled people not entering employment
disproportionately come from certain impairment groups (Chapter 1, point 12). These
groups are those with mental health difficulties, those with learning disabilities and
those who are blind or have a visual impairment. The needs of these specific groups
must be considered, as mainstream services are clearly not meeting their needs at
the moment. Skill agrees that an inclusive approach would involve services meeting
the needs of a diverse range of disabled people, however some impairment specific
services can significantly benefit certain groups of disabled people. Partnership and
consortium approaches to meeting the needs of a diverse population are a means of
reflecting the importance of specialist providers within a mainstreaming agenda. Skill
strongly agrees with aim to (Chapter 2, point 33) not lose the expertise of smaller
impairment-specific providers.

       Benefits of further education on employability

Skill would like to highlight that education and training can help disabled people gain
valuable skills and prepare for employment. Undertaking a course of Further
Education or Higher Education should be seen as a positive move towards
enhancing employability, and the Department should not ignore the benefits of this.
Undertaking a course or training can support the development of many soft skills as
well, such as timekeeping, confidence building, motivation and team working skills.

Skill agrees with the notes on the common misconceptions of employers (Chapter 1,
points 23 and 24). Skill believes that for the Department to fulfil it’s role in supporting
disabled people to enter, retain and progress in employment, it is essential that the


3
  The Education and Employment of Disabled Young People: frustrated ambition (2005) Tania
Burchardt
4
  Independent Living Strategy (2007) Office for Disability Issues
Department engage with and educate employers about disability issues (Chapter 1,
point 26).

Skill is disappointed that the evidence-base concerning the Disability Employment
Adviser role does not include reference to the previous role structure in the 1980’s
and 1990’s. The role structure at this time meant that fewer clients met a Disability
Employment Adviser directly, but were instead dealt with by front-line staff. It was
found at the time that this structure gave poorer quality interventions for disabled
clients and did not meet their needs. This structure was abandoned in and around
1994 in favour of the existing structure because of complaints around not seeing the
same adviser each time, not having a private space in which to discuss confidential
matters and poor understanding of disability issues by front-line staff compared to
DEAs. If the proposals in “Improving Specialist Disability Employment Services” are
to be considered fully, the full picture and history of specialist disability employment
services must be discussed and reflected on.


2. Do you agree that disabled people should only be directed to our specialist
disability employment provision where it is unlikely that our other
programmes, such as the New Deals, would be effective?

Skill does not support unnecessary barriers to accessing support programmes and is
concerned that the DEA will become a gatekeeper who will make referrals based on
cost effectiveness. If customers themselves are to be at the centre of decisions about
the support they need, then their views and preferences must be taken into account.

Skill supports Disability Employment Advisers advising disabled people of their
options and advising them of the most appropriate programme, but the wishes of the
disabled person must also be taken to account when providing support. If a disabled
person is directed toward the New Deal programme, but they would prefer to be on a
specialist disability employment programme, they should be allowed to request that
provision.

Skill appreciates that this proposal is designed to ensure those who need specialist
disability employment provision the most are able to access it, whilst those who do
not need it are not unnecessarily taking places. However if a disabled person has
reason to request a specialist disability employment service this request, and the
reasons behind this request (such as lack of confidence in abilities) must be
considered with them. This in itself would be an indication of the need for education
supporting them improve their skills and experience.

Skill believes that there is a lot of jargon involved in this area of work; access to work,
supported employment, new deal, workstep and jobcentre to name but a few. Jargon
can lead to confusion and anxiety, for not only disabled people, but also anyone who
is presented with it. Skill believes that clearer umbrella terms for each element of
provision with clearer sub-titles would assist with understanding for all concerned.
Integrated, Flexible Support
3. Are there points of our overall proposal to replace the Job Introduction
Scheme (JIS), Work Preparation and WORKSTEP with a single programme that
you either strongly agree with or strongly disagree with?

From the information given in Improving Specialist Disability Employment Services,
Skill is not convinced that replacing the three current programmes with a single
programme will produce significantly different results or practices. The proposals
suggest that disabled people will be signed up for one or more of the three
“elements” of the single programme (Chapter 3, Figure 4 and point 6). Skill
appreciates that this “elements” approach reflects the Department’s desire not to
have a “one size fits all” programme, and Skill strongly agrees that measures must be
taken to ensure people do not slip through the gaps in services. However, in Skill’s
view, having three discrete elements does not present a significant change from the
existing three schemes. If the changes are to be successful, it is crucial that the
customer experiences this as a “single programme” (Chapter 3, point 7) and any
separation should be managed between providers behind the scenes. Skill believes
that if change is needed to improve provision, there should be a single integrated
programme that continues to respond flexibly to an individual’s changing employment
needs.

If the proposed scheme is to be successful there is a great reliance on initial
assessment and information, advice and guidance to ensure that the disabled person
is placed on the most appropriate element(s) of the programme. It is vital that
disabled people are supported and listened to in this process to ensure that they get
the right support for their individual needs. In light of this reliance on initial
assessment, it must be recognised that ongoing review will be needed to ensure that
the proposed integrate scheme continues to respond flexibly and promptly to an
individual’s needs (Chapter 3, point 8). It is unclear in Improving Specialist Disability
Employment Services which professional will take the lead or responsibility for any
review; whether this will be the provider, customer or DEA. Skill believes that any of
the parties involved should be able to initiate a review of the support a customer
receives, especially the disabled person themselves.

Skill agrees with the concerns of the Department that for some disabled people in
WORKSTEP provision, more could be done to help than off provision and into
independent employment. It is important that disabled people are supported in
employment to achieve and a programme intended to be supportive must not achieve
this at the expense of someone’s independence.

Skill has found a repeated theme throughout Improving Specialist Disability
Employment Services that the quality of providers and support is inconsistent. This
was also a finding of the NAO report (Chapter 2, Box 4, points 27 and 29) relating to
these specialist services, but is also an issue apparent with DEA staff themselves
(Chapter 4, point 5). If any new proposals are to be successful, then better
commissioning and monitoring for quality in providers is essential. Continuing
contracts with poor providers is not in the interest of the Department financially, nor
the interest of disabled people themselves who are supposed to be the beneficiaries.
Skill recommends that the role of QIA Excellence Gateway in monitoring and
supporting best practice with providers be expanded.

An important point that is not made in Improving Specialist Disability Employment
Services is how the proposed single integrated programme will be reviewed and
evaluated and the timescale for this. Nor whether there will be an initial pilot before
rolling out nationally. The paper does not indicate whether there will be a transitional
period of moving to the single integrated programme and how this might take place in
a supportive way for customers as well as DEAs and providers.


4. For the Work Entry element of the proposed new programme – how could we
best ensure that our providers focus their efforts on all their customers and not
just those most likely to get a job?

Skill believes that giving incentives for providers to focus efforts on all customers is
key to the implementation of these proposals.

It is important that flexibility is available in the Work Preparation programme to
accommodate those who need longer than the allocated time constraint of 6 weeks.
A time constraint can be an encouraging goal for many people on the programme,
but for others who need slightly longer to complete this stage, a time constraint can
instead be a frightening deterrent. Skill agrees that strict time limits on programmes
can act as barriers for disabled people themselves, as well as providers (Chapter 2,
point 17) and do not help those facing the most difficulties with entering employment.
Experience in Entry to Employment (E2E) programmes has shown that when the
programme is time limited, providers select those most likely to achieve in the time,
even if time extensions are available. This “risk averse” behaviour must be
addressed.

Although the Department have correctly dismissed a “points system” for establishing
who should enter each programme (Chapter 3, point 4), a carefully planned scheme
could identify those most in need of support and providers could be given weighted
funding from supporting these customers through the programme.

An important mechanism for encouraging providers to focus efforts on all customers
is for “Distance Travelled” to be recognised, valued and given as an incentive. This
will allow providers who work with disabled people facing the most barriers to
employment to have their work recognised. Skill would be interested to hear the
outcomes of this Distance Travelled tool currently being developed and piloted (as
identified in Chapter 2, point 47). The New Measures of Assessment and RARPA
(Recognising and Rewarding Progress and Achievement) are valuable tool for non-
accredited learning, especially for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities.

Staff training on disability is typically on the responsibilities under the DDA,
addressing attitudes towards disability and breaking down barriers, however inclusive
training should focus more on the rewards for providers of working with disabled
people. If targets are based purely on the number of people attaining jobs, then
providers will focus on those most likely to get work. Moreover, those providers that
do work with those facing the most barriers to entering work will be seen to be poorly
performing. Incentives must be based on other things such as retention, employer
relationships, working with under-represented groups, disabled people and managing
recruitment.


5. For the Transitional Supported Employment element of the proposed new
programme – is it right that we should introduce a greater focus on helping
people progress off the provision and what safeguards and flexibilities would
you like to see included?

Skill does not think that people should remain on supported employment
programmes longer than they need to. It is important though, that a move off a
programme is with the full agreement of the disabled person themselves and that the
move is a transition supported by the employer. If a disabled person does not feel
able to make the move to unsupported employment, the reasons for this must be
discussed and addressed. Dialogue between the Department, disabled people and
their employer and the provider is key in this process (Chapter 3, point 16).

An important safeguard that should be retained is that the transition is reviewed by
the DEA at a number of points after transition, and that this review includes evidence
of discussion with the disabled person himself or herself. Built in to this safeguard
should be the provision that the disabled person or their employer can also approach
the DEA after the transition if they feel they require additional support. It is then
essential that support should be put back in place as soon as possible to ensure that
the disabled person can retain their employment.


6. For the Longer-Term Supported Employment element of the proposed new
programme – how can we best ensure that providers work closely with
employers and individual disabled people to help them develop in their job
whilst on the provision?


7. What should we do to ensure that consistently high quality standards are
delivered?

It is very important that consistently high quality standards are delivered, and Skill is
concerned that this does not appear to be happening at present (Chapter 2, Box 4,
points 27 and 29). A quality assurance mechanism must be put in place that
encourages self-evaluation, but also meets the Disability Equality Duty ethos of
involving disabled people. The Self Assessment aspect of Ofsted inspections should
be valued.


8. What else can we do to improve the way in which DWP’s supported
employment services for disabled people are delivered?

As highlighted previously, the current patchy nature of provision means disabled
people are not always getting a good service. This must be addressed through not
only good contracting, but also appropriate and rigorous evaluation and monitoring
processes. Good contracting should include the active involvement of disabled
people in the tendering and decision-making process.

Skill believes it is important that the difference between “support in employment” and
“supported employment” is recognised. Many people, disabled or not, need support
in employment in order to work. It should not be assumed that disabled people who
need support in employment necessarily need supported employment. Being on a
supported employment programme unnecessarily will not only have a negative
impact on the disabled person, but also on the society and community that they can
become isolated from.

Through the close contact with the disabled person, good providers will be able to
build up an informed picture of that person’s needs and progression. A person-
centred approach must be taken in these programmes, but the knowledge and
expertise of providers should not be ignored. Good providers should be allowed the
flexibility in delivery and progression to support disabled people to achieve their
potential. Providers should be allowed flexibility and should not be unnecessarily
burdened with bureaucracy or paperwork that will reduce their contact with disabled
people. Tendering, monitoring and evaluation processes must allow providers to
demonstrate that they are “good”.

Skill would welcome further encouragement from the Department of links between
providers and training or education institutions. This link is important for all people
and would support the Governments increasing skills agenda.


9. What role do you think supported businesses/factories should have in
providing employment for disabled people?

Skill has supported recent moves to reduce the reliance on supported businesses
and factories in providing employment for disabled people, and increase the number
of disabled people that enter and retain mainstream employment. Skill recognises
this as a shift in employment pattern, but at present not a total removal of the role
they play for some disabled people. It may be appropriate to conduct a review of the
modernisation activities of Remploy in order to identify any good practice or issues
for the sector that emerge. In order for this employment shift to be successful
Skill recommends the Department and Progression Through Partnership work
to challenge stereotypes and attitudes towards disabled employees and for
this to be supported by legislation.


10. If we go ahead with these reforms, do you believe we should offer some
protection to supported businesses when we tender for the new programme? If
so, what form should this protection take and how long should it last for?

The tendering process though should allow for current and future providers to
demonstrate their strengths and abilities to meet the needs of customers throughout
their involvement in the Departments specialist disability employment schemes. If a
current provider is not providing a satisfactory service for disabled people, then Skill
believes that they should not be awarded provider status (Chapter 3, point 30). The
adequacy of services must be addressed and poor providers should not be rewarded.


11. We are proposing to initially transform the WORKSTEP Factory Support
Grant (FSG) to focus on modernising services to deliver better progressions
within and outside the programme this would be instead of, for example,
buying new factory equipment. Eventually we would like to spend this money
directly on helping more individuals onto the proposed new programme. What
are your views on this proposal?

Skill has supported recent moves to reduce the reliance on supported businesses
and factories in providing employment for disabled people and increase the number
of disabled people enter and stay in mainstream employment. In order for this
employment shift to be successful support must be given to individuals to enter and
retain mainstream employment. Altering the focus of the FSG to help individuals
would be a move in this direction (Chapter 3, point 33).

12. We are considering holding an open competitive tender for contract. For
some of our current WORKSTEP customers this could mean their employment
support transferring to another provider. What would we need to consider and
what actions do you think we would need to take to help make any such
transfer a success?

Skill strongly agrees that it is important to support disabled people in any transition to
new employers necessary as part of these reforms. The process for transition must
be planned for and the individual disabled person must be at the centre of plans
concerning their life. A key advocate should be identified who works with them
through the change. This could be from advice resources or a voluntary organisation
for example.


13. How do you think we could best ensure that we retrain the skills of smaller
and specialist providers in the proposed open competitive tender of this
programme?

Skill believes that this is important and that the value of smaller and in particular
specialist providers should not be underestimated.

It is important that the Department identifies and addresses the issue of poorly
performing contracts. However, Skill recommends that the Department clarify its
views relating to “small and poorly performing “contracts (Chapter 2, point 29).
It is not clear whether the Department is suggesting that there are too many small
contracts and too many poorly performing contracts, or that are there too many small
and poorly performing contracts? Skill is concerned that small contracts are not all
considered to be poorly performing if this is not the case.

One of the values of small providers is that they are able to respond to particular
disabilities, local needs and the local labour market. Larger providers can be
unfamiliar with local needs and a whole organisational response will not reflect
individual interests. These are general comments, and Skill recognises that providers
should not be classified purely on their size.

Skill believes that each tender should be examined on its individual merits, and no
preconceived ideas regarding the number or size of contracts should be made. The
tender process must allow for expressions of innovation in support, responding to
individual needs and providing a flexible approach. If the tendering process is to be
truly open and competitive, then there should be no preferred size of contract
dictated (Chapter 3, point 27).
The Disability Employment Adviser role
Skill agrees with the statement that “many DEAs have a detailed understanding of
the issues customers face and have good links with local employers as well as
voluntary and community organisations” (Chapter 4, point 1). However it is important
to note that unfortunately this good practice does not extend to all DEAs and there
are a significant number of DEAs without the necessary specialist knowledge or
understanding to meet the employment needs of their disabled clients (Chapter 4,
point 5). Skill strongly recommends that this lack of consistency must be
addressed and performance management of this role must be improved. DEAs
must undertake Continuous Professional Development (CPD) similar to the
requirements of LLUK (Lifelong Learning UK) for further education staff. Skill
believes that more attention should also be paid to the career structure available to
DEAs so that staff have an incentive to stay within the role for a continuing period. If
an attractive career structure is not available, staff will undertake valuable training
and then move onto other careers leaving the Department with vacancies that require
further training to fill.

Skill is concerned that “enhancing” the role of the DEA seems to be primarily in
relation to management and monitoring issues (Chapter 4, point 23 and 24). Whilst
these aspects of service delivery are important, the value of the direct relationship
between DEAs and disabled people should not be underestimated. In addition, the
importance of improving the base-line provision and consistency should not be
ignored and is reflected in the Disability Equality Duty on the public sector to promote
disability.

Skill would not welcome an “enhancing” of the DEA role that lead to a reduction in
contact between DEAs and disabled people. Skill welcomes increased training for
front-line staff as all staff should be able to deal sensitively with disabled people. Skill
would be concerned however, if contact with front line staff were intended to replace
contact directly with a DEA. DEAs provide continuity of support for disabled people.
DEAs also provide a level of privacy that is necessary when discussing any disability
that front-line staff are unable to because of their physical location. Disabled people
value these two aspects of the DEA role and any change to the DEA role must
ensure that these values and service is maintained. Impersonal and inconsistent
service from Jobcentre Plus will only serve to disengage disabled people and prevent
them from accessing the support they need to enter or retain employment.

Skill is concerned that the “enhancing” of the role of DEA has not been coupled with
a professionalisation of the sector. This is especially concerning when it has already
been acknowledged that the service is variable at best (Chapter 4, point 5). This is a
change that has happened over the last 10 years in the Further Education sector for
example. There, staff advising students must now be suitably qualified and the Matrix
standard provides a framework for ensuring quality and effective delivery. Skill
recommends that the Department commit to professionalising the DEA role
and introduce minimum standards of training and advice qualifications. This
issue also applies to training providers who support and advise disabled people.
Skill is pleased that the relationship between DEAs and external organisations that
are supporting disabled people, such as employers, has been recognised and will be
retained (Chapter 4 points 21 and 22)

Skill would like to draw the Department’s attention to a new publication, “Doing Work
Differently” by RADAR5. It is important that the ethos of this publication is promoted
through the Department as an organisation, and in particular DEA and front-line staff
training, to ensure a greater understanding of the different ways of working. Home-
working for example is often overlooked as an important form of employment that
people may want to enter, and disabled people are also increasingly considering self-
employment as an option. Skill believes that the Department has a duty to promote
and support all their clients to work in whatever way they want to and that more
innovative work should be commissioned by the Department to embrace different
ways of working.


15. We are proposing that only Jobcentre Plus Disability Employment Advisers
(DEAs) would be able to refer individuals to the proposed new programme (see
Chapter Three). What are your views on this proposal?

This would only be an acceptable proposal if there were an adequate number of
Disability Employment Advisers to meet the demand of disabled people. There must
be enough capacity in the DEA role to respond to approaches from disabled people
at times that are suitable to the disabled person themselves.

It goes without saying that in order for this proposal to be successful all DEAs must
receive a high standard of training and experience that will enable them to make the
right decision in every case. It is important that the correct decision is made for every
individual and that these decisions are consistent throughout Jobcentre Plus.


16. Do you believe that DEAs should have a higher profile role for people to
feedback on the support they receive from our externally delivered provision?

Skill agrees that feedback is important in order to evaluate and improve services. It
can often be the case that if no follow-up contact is had with clients, then service
providers can be unsure of whether they have been successful or not. Skill supports
DEAs having a higher profile for people to provide feedback to, but this should not be
at the expense of providing an initial and ongoing service to clients needing support
entering or remaining in the workplace.

It is important though that if DEAs are receiving feedback that this does not remain
with them, but is constructively passed onto providers. This is especially important for
two reasons; firstly because of issues already highlighted surrounding consistency of
service that must be addressed, and secondly to ensure that disabled peoples views
are making a difference to the service. It is essential that feedback reaches providers
(Chapter 4, point 19) and that this is used as part of a quality monitoring process. It is


5
    Doing Work Differently (2007) Radar
important though that an efficient mechanism for this feedback process is achieved
that maximises the DEA and provider’s time with their customers.

Skill is unsure though how this feedback mechanism will work alongside the Ofsted
quality assurance process. Ofsted currently inspect training providers and Workstep
providers and Skill would not want this work duplicated.


17. If you have used the Jobcentre Plus DEA service to help you find or retain
suitable employment, what aspects of the service do you like and are there
aspects that you think could be improved?
Access to Work
Skill has had experience of the Access to Work scheme as an employer of disabled
people. Skill’s members, including its trustees and Council have had experience of
the Access to Work scheme as disabled employees and as employers. Skill’s
comments on Access to Work link to recommendation 7.10 of Improving Life
Chances for Disabled People6 on the same topic.


19. What aspects do you like most about the Access to Work provision and do
you have any suggestions for improving the service?

The most important aspect of the Access to Work scheme is that it removes some of
the concerns of disabled people around entering employment. Some disabled people
have concerns that an employer will not employ them because of additional costs
they may face because of employing a disabled person. Some disabled people may
also have concerns that they do not know what adjustments or support they might get
in the workplace.

Skill also recognises that there is value in the Access to Work scheme removing
some of the concerns of employers that they may face additional costs when
employing a disabled person. However, it must be remembered that the DDA has
applied to the majority of employers since 1995 (with some notable exemptions) and
Skill believes that more could be done to work pro-actively with employers to raise
awareness about the minimal costs of employing disabled people. This work requires
a resource commitment to allow adequate time for visiting and feedback.

Access to Work is currently underutilised by disabled employees because of lack of
awareness of the scheme. Skill would like to draw the Department’s attention to the
recently published Final Report from the Commission for Disabled Staff in Lifelong
Learning7. The Commission found that whilst 29.2% of disabled staff respondents
used the Access to Work scheme, 32.3% did not know what it was. Skill
recommends that the Department do more to increase awareness amongst
disabled people and employers about the Access to Work scheme.

Skill would like to make a number of points about the importance of clarifying Access
to Work provision for disabled people on placements as part of a course of study, for
example those undertaking a one-year sandwich placement.
     There are a number of different types of placements that a student might be
       required to complete as part of the course of study at Higher Education. These
       can vary in length and on whether it is a paid placement or not.
     Guidelines for the Disabled Students Allowance make it clear that the
       allowance covers support needed on their course, but cannot be used for
       support needed on a paid placement. Access to Work however is clearly for
       use in a paid position.


6
  Improving Life Chances for Disabled People (2005) Department for Work and Pensions, Department
of Health, Department for Education and Skills, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
7
  From compliance to culture change: disabled staff working in lifelong learning (2007) Commission for
Disabled Staff in Lifelong Learning
   Disabled students and their advisers are put off applying for Access to Work
    funding for a paid placement if it is less than a year long, because of the time it
    takes to assess and put support in place. This means that some disabled
    students on paid placements may not be getting all the support they need.
   Skill recommends that the assessment process for those applying to
    Access to Work funding who have already had a Disabled Students
    Allowance assessment should be streamlined. One way of doing this
    would be for the Access to Work Assessor to have a copy of the Disabled
    Students Allowance Assessment Report and for them to accept this as a proxy
    for part or all of the assessment.

Skill would also like to make a number of points relating to improving the Access
to Work scheme by allowing disabled people engaged in volunteering activities
to access support.
 For some disabled people, volunteering is an important means of increasing
    confidence and skills that can lead to preparation for work related activities.
 Disabled people in employment who require adjustments to enable them to
    work are supported by Access to Work (AtW) funding. Similarly disabled
    people who are studying can access funding from the Disabled Students
    Allowance (DSA) in Higher Education and Additional Learning Support (ALS)
    in Further Education.
 Disabled people who want to take part in volunteering cannot access any
    equivalent provision and so may be disadvantaged and limited in the
    volunteering activities they can take part in or the volunteering organisations
    they can support.
 Skill’s research in to access to volunteering for disabled people identified
    constraints in funding as being a barrier. Many organisations keen to involve
    disabled volunteers were unable to meet the additional costs to necessitate
    inclusion. This often included providing a sign language interpreter or support
    worker.
 The Commission on the Future of Volunteering recently released their
    Manifesto for Change.
    Recommendation 2.1 We recommend the establishment of an Access to
    Volunteering Fund.
    More action needs to be taken to ensure that volunteering is genuinely open to
    all. We therefore recommend the establishment of an Access to Volunteering
    Fund, available to both individuals and organisations. The Fund will support
    the organisational costs involved in involving disabled volunteers and will also
    be open to individual volunteers to fund the cost of a carer or support worker
    to enable them to undertake their volunteering. We propose that, in the first
    instance, £1 million be made available from central government to pilot this
    programme in two or three regions of the country, with a view to a nationwide
    rollout if it proves successful. We recommend the initial
 Skill strongly supports this recommendation and would welcome the
    Department for Work and Pensions also lending their support for this
    move to allow everyone to have the benefits of volunteering.
20. What can we do to ensure Access to Work is used more effectively to meet
the needs of individuals?

The Department is already aware that one of the most common concerns with the
Access to Work scheme is the time between application for the scheme and receiving
support identified. Skill would like to propose that Access to Work consider the model
of prospective application for Disabled Students Allowances in Higher Education.

Prospective students to Higher Education can begin the application and assessment
process for Disabled Students Allowance funding in advance of being accepted onto
a course. This allows prospective disabled students to have their study-related needs
identified in advance of starting their course. Once a student has been accepted onto
a course, funding may then be released to purchase specific equipment and support.
This model allows disabled students to “hit the ground running” so to speak, and
have their support in place from the first day of their course.

Whilst this system is not without its faults, it could provide a model for early
application for Access to Work prior to securing a contract of employment. It is likely
that for most disabled job seekers, their employment access needs will be similar in
each position they apply for (for example it is unlikely that someone will be applying
for laboratory research work at the same time as applying for desk-based
administrative work). The general access to employment and support needs could be
identified at this stage, and stored ready to be confirmed once a contract of
employment has been secured.

The role of Access to Work assessors at the moment is often impairment-focused in
terms of experience and allocation. Whilst impairment-specific experience can allow
assessors to become familiar with a range of adjustments and adaptations, Skill
believes there is a case for assessors to become sector-specific instead. For
example assessors could specialise in academic staff in education, working in the
public sector, working in science and engineering or working in IT. This would move
away from a medical model to a social model approach to barriers in the workplace.

Skill would like to reference the BRITE Initiative 8 in Scotland. This provides an
equipment pool to colleges and such a facility could be useful for employers. This
would allow employers to have access to a centre of excellence on technology,
equipment and adaptation and allow them to try out and experience new ways of
working for disabled people.


21. How would you try to better balance the need for consistency of decision-
making in Access to Work across the country with benefits of local flexibility?

Consistency in decision-making is one issue affecting successful Access to Work
provision, another is speed in decision-making and support becoming available. Skill
appreciates that this is a difficult balancing act for Access to Work to achieve,
however both flexibility and consistency of approach can be achieved from person-
centred and need-based approaches. High quality and high-level training of advisers

8
    http://www.brite.ac.uk/rbspeech.htm
is needed and collaborative working between advisers will support consistent
decision-making.

Consistency in decision-making is also an issue that changes over time, as well as
regionally. Skill has found that in recent years there have been many changes to the
“goal posts” of what will and will not be funded under the scheme. The key to a
decision should be based on the job role currently being performed and the
opportunities to progress. Consistency in the rules regarding the fund is important,
and clear communication about any necessary changes to these rules would make
the scheme easier to use.


22. How can we more effectively focus Access to Work on adjustments/support
beyond that which an employer should make as a reasonable adjustment under
the Disability Discrimination Act?

There continues to be a lack of awareness around the support needs of disabled
employees and the support programmes for disabled employees. It is important that
the Department and the Access to Work scheme work to address employers
concerns around employing disabled people, especially the fact that employers often
perceive the costs of employing a disabled person to be higher than they actually
are.9

Access to Work should work to advise employers more directly about reasonable
adjustments they should make. Employers should be able to speak directly to Access
to Work assessors and Disability Employment Advisers when they have a question
about adjustments and supporting disabled employees. Whilst confidentiality must be
maintained, it is important to support employers wanting to learn more about meeting
their duties under the DDA or who are unfamiliar with how the Access to Work
scheme works. This promotion of employing disabled people and awareness of
employment issues links to recommendation 7.14 of Improving the Life Chances of
Disabled People10. Employers failing to make reasonable adjustments should be
contacted and addressed by the EHRC.

Skill encourages the Department to take advantage of the Disability Equality Duty on
the public sector. This duty means employers must promote disability and eliminate
discrimination. The Disability Equality Duty provides a tool for the Department, and
specifically DEAs, to ensure the Access to Work scheme supports the duty on
employers to make reasonable adjustments. Skill recommends that any single
equality duty considered by this Government does not diminish the duty on
public bodies under the DED.

One mechanism for increasing the emphasis on employers providing reasonable
adjustments would be to apply an anticipatory duty onto employers. The duty on
post-16 education providers is an anticipatory one and there have been many

9
 National Audit Office (2005) Gaining and retaining a job: the DWO support for
disabled people.
10
   Improving Life Chances for Disabled People (2005) Department for Work and Pensions, Department
of Health, Department for Education and Skills, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
benefits to individuals and organisations by the approaches that they as education
providers must take.

Access to Work could be more effectively focused and employers encouraged more
to provide reasonable adjustments if there was clear guidelines and support available
to employers on what adjustments they are reasonably expected to provide
themselves. In Higher Education, some students with disabilities will have Disabled
Students Allowance funding to meet additional costs they face because of their
disability. DSA Assessors and institutions are aware of the guidelines surrounding the
DSA and what institutions should be providing centrally. This learning should be
equally applied to employment. Skill recommends that there should be clear
guidance for employers about what they should be providing as a reasonable
adjustments and what Access to Work will cover.

For some disabled people entering work, as well as the initial heavy costs that are
needed, these costs might be recurrent every 4-5 years (for example a blind person
needing specialist software that needs updating or replacing). This “recurring”
scenario could allow a shift onto employers meeting the costs of reasonable
adjustments. Guidance would be needed so that employers and Access to Work staff
are clear about responsibility for meeting the costs of recurring adjustments, and
what was seen as a recurring cost. In some cases, for example a deaf person
needing an interpreter regularly to allow them to work, the recurring cost might be too
great for an employer to meet.

For some disabled people, Access to Work meets the additional transport costs they
face, as they cannot use public transport to get to work. This is a valuable feature of
Access to Work, however it is unlikely that an employer would meet this cost as a
reasonable adjustment for an individual member of staff. When considering the future
of Access to Work it is important to consider the different aspects of support that
disabled people may need, the differences between employers in the public and
private sector and the differences within both sectors. Any guidelines on reasonable
adjustments must allow for flexibility and cannot be too prescriptive or they will prove
unworkable in practice.


23. Do you believe that we should increase employer contributions to Access
to Work adjustments as long as the savings are reinvested in the programme?

Skill feels that there are definite pros and cons for increasing the employer
contribution to Access to Work, but at this stage cannot support policy change in
either direction.

Before any consideration is made on this issue, Skill recommends that an impact
assessment be carried out on the previous changes to funding for employees
in ministerial departments. It is important that this review takes place and such a
review should consider the impact on recruitment, appointment of disabled people, as
well as reviewing the adjustments made and whether good practice and adjustments
have been embedded in the Departments. It is important that the review demonstrate
how savings made by Access to Work were reinvested into the scheme. Skill shares
the views of Employers Forum on Disability on this matter, who are also calling
for such a review.
Skill agrees with the notes on the common misconceptions of employers (Chapter 1,
points 23 and 24). Skill believes that the Department should do more to address
these misconceptions before reviewing the employer contribution to Access to Work.

Increasing the responsibility on employers could improve communication and
understanding of disability issues, and could speed up the approval process, which is
of particular importance to new disabled employees.


24. Are there more innovative ways in which we could make better use of the
private and third sectors in delivering Access to Work?

If there were to be a policy change, Skill would recommend that funding bodies be
approached and persuaded to provide some specific transitional funding to ease
public employers into mainstreaming provision into their budgets. This would include
HEFCE for those employers in the higher education sector and the LSC through
Train to Gain.

Skill strongly believes that any savings made through any means should be
reinvested in the wider programme. Skill recommends that the reinvestment
programme also include reduced price training for employers on employing
and supporting disabled people and making reasonable adjustments.

Disabled people themselves in employment are a valuable resource of information
and guidance. Their advice could assist other disabled people enter the workplace
either through advising the Access to Work assessor or mentoring disabled people
themselves as they enter employment.


25. Ministerial Government Departments are now directly funding Access to
Work adjustments for their disabled staff. What are your views on other public
sector organisations paying for such adjustments if any savings were
reinvested in the programme?

Similarly to the points made above regarding increasing the employer contribution to
Access to Work, Skill believes that before this proposal is considered, there must be
a review of the impact of the change on Government Departments and Access to
Work reinvestment. Skill recommends that an impact assessment be carried out
on the previous changes to funding for employees in ministerial departments.
Skill shares the views of Employers Forum on Disability on this matter, who are
also calling for such a review.

Skill would like to highlight that one of the original reasons for government
departments funding Access to Work directly was because Access to Work is
government funding. Therefore Access to Work for government departments is a
money-moving exercise (money being allocated to the Department for Work and
Pensions only to be then given to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport
through Access to Work). This principle however cannot be applied to all public
sector bodies.
The public sector and Government Departments have specific duties under the
Disability Equality Duty. Skill is disappointed that more emphasis has not been given
to the first anniversary of the Duty (December 2007) and the requirement of public
sector bodies to produce their first annual review. Skill believes that the potential of
the Duty is currently being under-utilized, and that compliance with the Duty should
be established and embedded before further changes are made, such as the
suggested requirement on public bodies to meet Access to Work costs, or legislation
changes such as a Single Equality Bill.

Whilst it is important that schemes, such as Access to Work, are regularly reviewed
for their continued relevance and efficiency, it is important to consider the current
Government agenda of reducing the number of people on benefits and increasing the
number in employment. If Access to Work provision is significantly altered (and
removing Access to Work provision from the public sector would be a significant
change) this could have an effect on the employment and retention of disabled staff.

Skill is concerned in particular about SME (small and medium sized employers) who,
as a group, employ a large number of disabled people. Their ability to provide
reasonable adjustments without the support of Access to Work would be severely
reduced.

Skill is also concerned that the sector is not ready to manage the process of
assessment of work-related needs that an Access to Work advisor would perform. It
is important that an infrastructure of assessment and advice is developed or made
available to the sector if Access to Work funding was withdrawn.

Proposed withdrawal of funding to public authorities could affect employment
opportunities for disabled people in lifelong learning institutions. Skill recommends
guidance on this issue should be sought from the Commission for Disabled
Staff in Lifelong Learning11.




11
     http://www.niace.org.uk/projects/commissionfordisabledstaff/Default.htm
Conclusion
26 How do you feel we can improve the way these services work with other
locally delivered services and/or local partnership arrangements?

Skill believes that communication in local areas could be supported by a local annual
conference or forum for providers and employers. A working party or network could
stem from this forum that would seek views, produce a local newsletter and try to
increase local collaboration. Identifying local employer champions who are willing to
help other prospective providers or employers would be useful.


27. We are committed to producing a full Equality Impact Assessment on the
final proposals and would value your input in this area. Do you have any
specific comments on the impact of the proposals put forward in this
consultation on particular individuals or groups?

Skill was disappointed that the results of the “screening” exercise for the Equality
Impact Assessment were not made available on the consultation website as
promised (Preface, point 8).

Skill recommends that the specific needs of groups such as those with
learning disabilities, sensory impairments and those with mental health
conditions must be considered because of they are disproportionately not in
employment when compared to the disabled population as a whole (Chapter 1,
point 12).


28. Please let us know your views about any other aspect of this consultation.




Skill Policy Team
March 2008

				
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