HC Deb 28 February 1994 vol 238 cc536-7W
Sir John Hannam

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what decisions he has reached on the detailed arrangements for access to work as a replacement for the existing special schemes for disabled people; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Hunt

On 22 June 1993,Official Report. col. 102, I announced in outline the introduction of access to work, a major new programme for people with disabilities, in the next financial year. I am now able to announce further details.

In reaching decisions about details, I have taken full account of the many comments and representations made to myself and to my noble Friend Lord Henley by hon. Members, noble Lords, disability and employer organisations and others, and advice by the National Advisory Council on Employment of People with Disabilities.

Access to Work will assist people to overcome barriers to work resulting from their disabilities. It replaces the special aids to employment, adaptations to premises and equipment, fares to work, and personal reader service schemes, which will be wound up. Help available under access to work will not be confined to specified forms of assistance; the scheme will be able to respond flexibly to need—for example, the needs of deaf people for communication support.

It will be open to unemployed, employed or self-employed people registerable as disabled, with priority for unemployed people.

As already announced, there will be an upper limit to the amount of financial help an individual can receive over a five-year period, with entitlement beginning again after five years. I have decided to set this limit at £21,000. I have also decided to empower senior officials of the Employment Service, exceptionally, to authorise payments in excess of this limit where it is necessary and reasonable to do so and is compatible with helping the planned numbers of people from the resources made available to the Employment Service region concerned.

I am very grateful to all those who participated in consultation and the various meetings I and my colleagues have held. In view of the evidence that many business people feel that a mandatory contribution could act as a deterrent to employers, contrary to the original survey data produced, I have decided to introduce access to work without seeking an employer contribution. I am particularly persuaded by the arguments of members of the all-party disablement group that we should try the new scheme for a year without an employer contribution and then review the position. However, we will continue to expect an employer to contribute when the help will be of general benefit to the firm and not solely for the disabled employee.

I have therefore decided to introduce access to work without seeking an employer contribution and without assuming that employers will meet one-off costs of £100 or less for established employees. This will allow us to consider further the case for an employer contribution in the light of experience of operating the scheme. To fund wider access in 1994–95 I am increasing by £3.5 million the expenditure in 1993–94 on the schemes that Access to Work replaces. This includes £2 million that had not been in any previous plans. The total budget for further activities in 1994–95 will be £14.6 million.

I will review access to work, including the issue of employer contributions, after the first full year of operation.

The changes to the operation of access to work outlined earlier mean that it will no longer be possible to launch the new arrangements from 1 April 1994. Access to Work will now be introduced on 6 June 1994 and accordingly fares to work, adaptations to premises and equipment, special aids to employment, personal reader services for the blind., and separate help towards the cost of communication at interview for deaf people will continue until 5 June 1994.

People receiving help under the current four schemes will be supported on their existing terms until 31 March 1995, from which time they will join access to work. They may join access to work earlier if they wish—for example, if they would benefit from the new forms of help.

As previously announced, the business on own account scheme will be wound up from 31 March 1994. The job introduction scheme will continue unchanged.

I believe that the introduction of access to work will be widely supported by disabled people and employers and will be a major step forward in releasing the skills and potential of disabled people at work.

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