The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of manipulating statistics in an attempt to hide the ongoing barriers, cuts and harassment experienced by disabled people seeking support from a key disability employment programme.
The claims followed the release of new figures which showed the number of disabled people approved every year for support from the Access to Work (AtW) programme had fallen by 15 per cent under seven years of Conservative rule.
The scheme has been repeatedly praised as an effective way of supporting disabled people in work and ensuring they keep their jobs, and provides funding for work-related support such as aids and equipment, communication support, travel to work, physical adaptations to a workplace, and hiring support workers.
The government described the scheme as crucial to its previous goal of halving the disability employment gap, and in the November 2015 spending review pledged to increase the number of people the scheme helped by 25,000 a year by 2020, increasing spending by nearly a quarter.
The new “experimental” figures, which are believed to be first to be released on AtW for more than a year, do show that the number of people who had Access to Work support approved in 2016-17 was nearly 2,000 higher than the previous year.
But they also show that the figure for 2016-17 (23,630) was still more than 4,000 lower than in the final year of the last Labour government (27,760).
And Deaf and disabled campaigners cast grave doubt last night (Wednesday) on the figures and suggested DWP was attempting to camouflage continuing cuts to people’s support.
Although the figures show the number of people who had support packages approved in each year, they do not include those who continue to receive AtW support without the need for reassessment, or show how many people lost their support or had it cut after being reassessed.