Equal responsibilities, unequal rights – on the proposed Access to Work award cap

Just been perusing DWP’s equality analysis accompanying proposals to impose a cost cap on Access to Work awards.  In it they say:

‘It is unusual for Government to deliver uncapped support, particularly in the current economic climate. Although some people will argue for a “rights first” approach, a shift towards lower average awards would allow us to support more customers (see table D). Supporting more customers and meeting the hypothesised significant unmet need – particularly of under–represented groups including those with hidden impairments such as mental health conditions and learning disabilities, is something that many key stakeholders have strongly advocated.’

It’s not entirely clear what is meant here by a ‘rights first’ approach but it seems to be saying that some argue that the person’s award should be commensurate with the cost of securing them the support they require to perform a job on an equal basis with others.  In rejecting that principle, DWP is also therefore saying that awards should not in all cases be commensurate with ensuring that a person can perform a job on an equal basis with others, and as such this policy openly holds the potential to disadvantage some disabled people in the labour market (in particular those requiring communications support such as British Sign Language interpretation).

Yet at the same time, this lack of access to sufficient support – a direct result of DWP policy – would not presently be taken into account when determining whether a person was ‘capable’ of work.  It is a prime example of how the Work Capability Assessment is divorced from the realities of what shapes and sustains labour market participation, despite both policies emanating from the same government department.

A government that is dis-investing in the infrastructure of rights and opportunity cannot demand the responsibilities that such disinvestment makes unachievable.  If the government is serious about halving the disability employment gap, it will find the extra money to invest in Access to Work, not place a cap on opportunity.

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