New and unannounced guidance issued at the end of 2010 by the Department for Work in Pensions has subtly changed what can and can't be met by Access to Work.
Since Access to Work is a dedicated resource that provides practical advice to overcome issues arising from disability in the workplace, and can pay towards any extra employment costs associated with disability, it is a crucial part of the government's drive to get (disabled) people back into work.
But the practical application of the guidance means that disabled people who are trying to get back into work, or have secured a role and are liaising with their employers to ensure the workplace is accessible so they can do their work, are effectively receiving less support than they would have before the new guidance was issued. Those who do receive support are experiencing significant problems in securing this support.
The list of items that will no longer be covered by Access to Work is here (you can also download the full Access to Work guidance from the Deposits section of the Parliament website - it's paper DEP2010-2088 here). Items include hearing aids, any telephony, some voice-activated software and walking aids. (There's a related point here about the proposed reforms to Disability Living Allowance, which also mean these types of items wouldn't be paid for by state support.)
There's another crucial point as well: these practical changes have taken place ahead of the government's planned reforms of Access to Work: the DWP's business plan states that changes are being designed for Access to Work until December 2010 and the implementation plan of changes will be developed between January to April 2011.
The explicit reason given for the new guidance is that employers should be meeting some of these access costs as a "reasonable adjustment". However, there is a clear political imperative here, based once again on cost saving (more on which in another post).
It thus appears that DWP has issued unannounced, updated guidance on Access to Work which reduces the amount of support that was previously available to disabled people in securing employment. Furthermore, this has been done before an announced review of Access to Work has been published.
It may not be a cut in name, but it feels like a cut in practice.