Access to Work: Emily’s Experience

A picture of a pile of Access to Work Forms

Unlimited’s new Unlimited Impact Trainee, Emily, talks us candidly through the Access to Work grant programme.

For those who are unfamiliar with Access to Work, I’ll explain: Access to Work is a government grant programme that enables those with disabilities and long-term physical and mental health conditions to work by covering access costs. These can include communication support, specialist equipment, in-work mentoring, disability awareness training for colleagues and travel costs necessary due to inaccessible transport.

Without such grants these costs would fall upon disabled individuals themselves or the companies that employ us, which is unrealistic, unfeasible and would diminish our dismal chances of employment to zero.

I can tell you first hand such costs can be expensive. As someone who relies upon British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation for team meetings and presentations, an interpreter can cost between £30 – £50 an hour (with a minimal booking of 3 hours) – enough to make you think twice before allowing meetings to overrun!

However, by effectively supplementing another’s income, every pound spent on Access to Work supporting employment of disabled people generates £1.48 back to the Treasury via National Insurance contributions and Income Tax alone, making sound financial sense before even attempting to address the global need for a more diverse workforce.

Despite these statistics, Access to Work has been hit hard by The Dreaded Austerity Cuts, thanks to the enforcement of a new government spending cap per annum – an amount determined by a process of self-assessment, guesstimation of future need, and negotiation with an assigned Adviser.

Once approved, the money is assigned a unique reference number to scrawl upon a sudden deluge of invoices and forms, and the individual commences a careful juggling of balances to ensure there is enough money to cover all expenses for the year ahead. In addition, one must not be overly cautious when budgeting for access costs at the risk of underspending and having future allowances slashed.

So what has my own experience been? I count myself very fortunate to be employed by an organisation well-versed in the Access to Work process, to have a supportive network whose prompt phone consultations rapidly sped up what could otherwise have been a slow and drawn-out application process (at least judging by the number of bounced-back emails I received) and to be able to use this learning opportunity to consult with others, seek advice and familiarise myself with the system, in preparation for the future.

It is hard to be critical of a system that is essentially granting me lifeblood by supporting my employment, though I have been astonished by the apparent lack of transparency, support and, ironically, accessibility on the process. Access to Work has become a name proudly touted by well-meaning officials, yet rarely explained; instead I am relying on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, peers and others who have been through the system themselves.

Also, though a matter of personal choice, for a society rapidly increasing its reliance on technology and innumerable apps to manage all manner of lifestyles, the fact that emails are forbidden to send off invoices smacks of an antiquity in sore need of updating. Additionally, to my mind, the reams of paper generated by Access to Work’s required printouts and photocopied forms to be filled in and countersigned before being sent off to a nameless mail-handling site rests on a shaky form of trust that everything will be processed (with no issues to amend) before late charges are incurred.

Having said this, suddenly in charge of an important budget, and faced with the ‘swim or sink’ approach to paperwork, I am acquiring such multitasking and organisational skills that would impress (and reassure) any parent of the returning boomerang generation!

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