People unaware of disability scheme
Substantial numbers of disabled people are missing out on government support to help them work, MPs have found.
Inadequate funding and a lack of awareness of the Access to Work (AtW) programme means it is only reaching a minority of those that could be helped, the Work and Pensions Select Committee found.
It criticised the way government staff running the scheme treat workers trying to access it, accusing them of displaying an "unacceptable lack of disability awareness".
The committee also found that a clampdown on the pay the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will cover for support workers has threatened the employability of deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users.
A cap on the hourly rate has had a "profoundly detrimental" impact on many service users, particularly deaf people who need a significant amount of BSL interpretation to do their jobs, it said.
Dame Anne Begg, who chairs the committee, said: "DWP's recent approach to BSL is highly regrettable and betrays a lack of understanding of the BSL interpreting market and how BSL is utilised by deaf people at work. The costs of BSL are relatively high but it would be unacceptable for DWP to try to control costs by targeting a particular group in a way which threatens people's ability to stay in their jobs."
Around 35,450 workers received AtW support in 2013/14 at a total cost of £108 million.
MPs said it was not possible to estimate how many people the scheme could help but found there are "substantial" unmet needs.
They said there was a belief that it should be used to provide aids, equipment and transport for people with physical disabilities when it should also be used to help workers with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism.
It called for DWP staff to be given training after uncovering a raft of concerns about the way they dealt with people using the service.
The National Autistic Society said there was a "very serious lack of awareness" about the needs of autistic people and deaf BSL users complained of being treated in an "unfair or discriminatory" way.
Dame Anne said: "Access to Work should be a good news story for DWP. Where it works well, it transforms lives, allowing disabled people who might otherwise be excluded to participate in the world of work.
"But Access to Work's modest budget risks an approach which seeks to boost the numbers helped by AtW by bearing down on the awards of people whose support needs happen to be high cost, including those who use BSL.
"Access to Work should be about removing barriers for the full range of disabled people who can benefit from the programme, including the relatively few whose support costs are high."
A DWP spokesman said: "Access to Work helped over 35,000 disabled people to get or keep a job this year - an extra 5,000 on two years ago. This week we announced further improvements to the service and we have also committed an additional £15 million to ensure even more people can benefit.
"Over 250,000 more disabled people are in work this year compared to last. Access to Work and our Disability Confident Campaign are key parts of this, ensuring that disabled people have the same choice of jobs as everyone else."