Congenital Heart Defects – how a supportive employer makes all the difference

By Nicola Holt 


It’s Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) Awareness week this week. These conditions tend to be overlooked in conversations about heart disease, so it’s a good chance to talk about how it can affect people, dispel some common myths; and share some ideas about how employers can make the lives of CHD sufferers a little easier.

Congenital defects start before birth, while the heart is still forming. They come in a variety of types. A hole in the heart is the most common, a condition which is easily fixed nowadays but just a few decades ago would have been debilitating and possibly fatal.

Modern medicine has come a very long way in a short space of time, so people with congenital heart defects have very high survival rates and, usually, a high standard of life. Valves can be replaced, blocked blood vessels can be opened with stents, heart rhythms can be paced, and whole hearts can be transplanted. Despite huge leaps in treatment and technology, a CHD requires lifelong care and often lifelong medication.

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

Living with a congenital heart defect

I was diagnosed with CHD when I was 4 and had surgery at 7. In 2014 my pulmonary valve began to fail, and I had surgery to replace it with a shiny new one. I also had a hole fixed, and a pacemaker fitted. As well as some of the more philosophical conclusions people draw when faced with a situation like that, it taught me that an efficient, well-prepared and compassionate employer is vital when you’re faced with a traumatic life event.

What would my employer think?

The last thing you need when you have a heart condition is stress. Work is one of the most common sources of stress at the best of times, and being ill is another one, so that’s an unfortunate combination.

Being told that you have a heart condition can come as a huge shock, and the necessity for invasive open-heart surgery is daunting. It’s important that an employer has processes in place to handle situations like this, and make information about those processes readily available. If it is, people can find out what to expect and plan ahead.

This is particularly important for sick pay. If the policy is clear and fair, it takes away a lot of the stress. If you’re lying in a hospital bed worrying about getting back to work, it’ll take you longer to recover.

My first thoughts, after the initial fear of being told I needed surgery, were about my job. How would they cope without me? Would they tolerate me being off for months? Would I get sick pay? If I didn’t, how would I pay my mortgage? And what about the ongoing care, months of appointments and tests? Because Fujitsu has policies for all of these it didn’t take me long to find out exactly what I needed to do, how much time I could take off, and what the pay situation was.

It’s also vital to create a supportive environment in which people feel comfortable talking about their health issues. It might seem like a very personal thing, but open communication is good for the business as well as the individual.

Friday afternoon, one hour’s notice

You don’t always get a lot of time to plan. I was phoned at 4pm on Friday and asked to go to the hospital for a pulmonary valve replacement the following Monday. An hour’s notice that I’d need around 3 months off.

Hospital timetables are complex and ever-shifting things and if a date comes up, you take it. Because I work in such a supportive environment, I was able to tell everyone what was going on ahead of time without any fear that I’d be judged. That enabled me to get a detailed plan into place so everyone knew what they needed to do and what work they’d be covering.

Even admitting that you have a heart problem is an issue for some people. It’s sometimes seen as a weakness, particularly if the person is in a high-profile, fast-paced job. As an employer, if you make it harder for people to be open about their condition, it’s going to be harder for everyone if one of your employees suddenly disappears for a few months.

The necessity for support doesn’t end with the surgery. In fact, that’s often the easy bit. Open heart surgery takes months to recover from. During that time there are all sorts of issues to manage – mobility is severely restricted, and the medication can make a quick return to work impossible.

Workplace adaptations

Fujitsu sent me to see an occupational health expert as soon as I was well enough to get there. He helped me to identify the adaptations I needed. There’s an easy ordering process for anyone who could benefit from additional help whether it’s technology or a more comfortable chair. When you’ve had your rib cage opened a couple of times, comfort becomes very important!

Those processes meant that I didn’t have to worry about booking appointments or trying to get hold of equipment. If you put too much bureaucracy in the way, people won’t get the help that they need. And, of course, the law obliges employers to make reasonable adjustments to enable people to do their jobs effectively.

Even if a CHD sufferer isn’t having surgery there are adjustments that can be made. Are they expected to carry heavy equipment? That can be an issue with some conditions, as can climbing stairs.

I have a light-weight laptop which is easier for me to carry to meetings; and multiple charging cables so I can dot them around my various working locations. The small things really matter. Employers should all have a policy for providing these.

Returning to work

A phased return to work is crucial so there needs to be a policy in place to manage this. A day or two a week, or a couple of hours a day, maybe some time working from home. Different arrangements will work for different people and different conditions.

I went back to work part time. It was disorientating and difficult. The pain was tough, the painkillers were tough, but the most difficult aspect was just not knowing what was going on. I like to know what everyone is doing and when. I like to have a plan in my head so I can make sure everything gets done. My team handled everything amazingly, but it felt disorientating. They’d coped disturbingly well without me, and I felt like a surplus cog. It took me a few weeks to get back into the swing of things.

Most people who have invasive heart surgery need a lot of aftercare. Cardiac rehabilitation and physiotherapy appointments are usually necessary for several months, and the drug treatments go on for longer. Warfarin treatment means regular blood tests and is usually long-term or even life-long.

The most important thing in this whole process was my line manager. A supportive manager makes all the difference in the world. The bureaucracy was all handled in the background while I was off, he supported me before the process and helped me plan, and all of the communication I received was supportive and helpful.

I was eased back into work with the help of all the people around me, and never felt pushed to do anything beyond my comfort zone. There’s no doubt the attitude of my manager and colleagues helped me to recover more quickly.

Friends and fellow CHD patient stories

I know I’ve been very lucky. A quick survey of friends and fellow CHD patients threw up a disturbing selection of stories from people with less supportive employers. Some were sent dozens of letters asking for updates and sick notes, some were pushed into returning to work when they weren’t ready and became ill again.

Some were passed over for promotion and believed it to be entirely because they were seen as weak, or a liability. Some even lost their jobs because their employers didn’t want to employ people who would need time off for treatment; or quit because they couldn’t cope with the stress of all the bureaucracy. All of their employers have lost out. They’ve let people go who were hard-working, dedicated and capable, just because they didn’t have the right support and processes in place.

I think what’s most impressive about the Fujitsu approach is the genuine desire to improve, continuously. The SEED group is there for long term support. Communication, training and processes are being analysed and improved to make them more effective. A happy and healthy workforce is recognised as being good for business, and the people improving these processes really care.

What could you do differently at work to help people with long-term health conditions?

Busting some myths around Congenital Heart Defects

  • Congenital heart defects aren’t lifestyle related. Staying healthy is a good idea but it doesn’t cause the defects. They’re often genetic.
  • A cure is difficult. Many people need repeated surgery throughout their lives and rely on drugs to stay healthy. Sometimes people need surgery every ten years or so, particularly if valves need replacing.
  • It’s not just about the heart. Chronic conditions like this are associated with pain, anxiety and depression so it’s important to take a holistic view
  • It doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Some people will struggle to climb stairs and get out of breath easily. Others can climb mountains. It depends on the type and severity of the condition.
  • It’s not that rare. It’s the most common congenital defect, affecting almost 1% of the population
  • You can’t tell when someone has a heart condition. Just because someone looks healthy doesn’t mean that they are, and a lot of the issues associated with CHD are hidden. You can sometimes spot us by the impressive selection of scars though!
  • Heart problems affect people of every age. CHD is a congenital condition, it’s there before birth and throughout life.

For more information or to visit the Fujitsu Responsible Business blog – visit: http://blog.uk.fujitsu.com/category/responsible-business/#.VsNDyXSLReU 

It isn’t as simple as just saying employer culture needs to change

By George Selvanera


On Channel 4’s Leader’s Debate last month, a member of the studio audience asked “What do the Conservatives plan to do to get more disabled people into work?” Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“The culture of employers needs to change.”

I imagine it was a convenient shortcut for David Cameron to say the culture of employers needs to change. The ways culture needs to change, how these changes are made and the role of Government in influencing change – both directly and indirectly – doesn’t really make for a neat, short answer.

After all, it isn’t straightforward to make and sustain changes in systems, processes and practice generally, let alone when addressing disability – a wonderful catchall term for everything from dyslexia to dementia; to diabetes to wheelchair user; to mental ill health. That said, I am encouraged by increasing numbers of private and public organisations which are making real change, with more than a hundred large private and public sector employers using the Business Disability Forum (BDF) Disability Standard to help guide their disability performance improvement.

Office environment with focus on man working in foreground

Last year’s Government disability and health employment strategy wasn’t especially practical when it pointed to BDF Partners Sainsbury’s, BT and Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) as examples of businesses that have a strong record of recruiting disabled people and then called on other businesses to do the same.

Sainsbury’s, BT and LBG each have senior disability sponsors championing a whole organisation approach to improving their disability performance. They all have networks for their disabled staff that inform employee and customer innovations for disabled people. They all invest in improving the skills and confidence of line managers to manage the needs of staff members with disabilities and long-term health conditions. They all operate workplace adjustment processes that enable access to adjustments for employees so they can be productive and happy in the work environment. They also increasingly deploy disability-smart procurement processes. The latter point is essential given the number of outsourced functions that directly impact the ability of any business to deliver for disabled people in areas such as facilities management/property, technology, recruitment and occupational health. So yes, they do well in recruitment of disabled people, but it is because they are prioritising and investing in improving disability performance across the whole organisation.

Building disability confidence is a permanent work in progress, and at BDF, it is exciting to see the way in which businesses and public sector organisations are learning from each other – sometimes even competing with each other – to get better at how they recruit, retain and do business with disabled people.

We are working with a group of BDF Partners that include Royal Mail, EY, de Poel Community and the Department of Work and Pensions to understand more about what helps and what gets in the way of organisations retaining their disabled employees. This working group is overseeing a large scale research project where more than 140 private, public and third sector organisations nationally have participated and shared their perspectives about their own skills and confidence and the quality of their systems and processes in retaining and developing disabled employees. The research will be published in June (watch out for the launch date) and sets out just how important it is to have people with visible disabilities in workplaces, effective workplace adjustment processes and organisational policies that encourage disabled people to achieve at work. It also makes clear that many organisations are getting better and want to do more.

The Government could help too. At BDF, we are often told that Access to Work remains overly complex, unfriendly and in need of substantial improvement. While some of the recent changes to Access to Work are good – most notably the end of the 30-hour guidance and the potential development of IT portals, the opportunity to make Access to Work better for business and subsequently better for disabled people, was not taken up. It seems very odd not to have an employer helpdesk or workplace based assessments that involve the employer and the employee or an accreditation scheme that would reduce red tape for employers who have a positive record of employing disabled people and interacting with Access to Work. Further still, it is extremely bad policy to introduce caps that will limit businesses capacity to recruit disabled people and so disabled people that might have worked and contributed to the tax pot, instead risk consignment to benefits.

Similarly, the Government’s multi-billion pound Work Programme would benefit from Welfare to Work providers proactively engaging with employers to ensure they are skilled and confident in managing the impact of particular disabilities for individual candidates in the specific workplace, and have the knowledge needed to support disabled staff to perform at their best.

Indeed, this approach is something for the wider recruitment industry so that they are working with candidates and employers to ensure that candidates with the right skills for a particular job are being ‘pushed’ to organisations that are confident about managing the impacts of a particular disability within a particular role at their workplace. Again however, I am encouraged by BDF work with the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCO) who are keen to build the skills, confidence and expertise of the recruitment profession to do just this. In a similar way, the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative Awards (RIDI) spotlight and celebrate excellent recruitment practices that are making a difference in securing sustainable employment for disabled people.

Increasing the number of disabled people in work and being fulfilled and achieving at work won’t happen overnight and yes, David Cameron is right about the importance of culture. But it isn’t anywhere near as simple as that. We all have a role. Government does. All parts of an organisation do – not just their recruitment section, but facilities, procurement, HR, learning and development, senior leadership, communications, IT etc. Suppliers and partners do. And as customers, we all can by transacting with businesses that state and deliver on public commitments to recruit and retain disabled people.

Life as a disabled entrepreneur – specialist disability consultant Rick Williams discusses what it takes to start a successful business

By Rick Williams

In 2014, 500,000 disabled people set up their own businesses. Forming part of a positive trend, this figure represents a further increase from the previous year. In order to support this growing number, Business Disability Forum recently asked me to reflect upon my own experiences as a disabled entrepreneur and discuss what it takes to set up a successful business. Image of Rick Williams In February of 2001 I set up my own business after 30 years as a career civil servant. I was bored and decided to see what I could do for myself in business terms. 14 years later, my company Freeney Williams Ltd is now one of the largest specialist disability consultancies in the UK and Europe. The point from where I started, to where I am now, was an interesting journey. It demanded hard work, effort and emotion, not-to-mention the sheer amount of hours. Despite this, I wouldn’t swap it or have gone back to being a ‘slave to the wage.’

My business idea was simple:

‘Go out and tell organisations how they should improve the way they employ, serve and do business with disabled people.’

‘What a good idea’! I thought. ‘Well was it?’ I talked to a number of people about this to see whether they thought it would work. In particular, I remember talking to Susan Scott-Parker who was CEO of the Employers’ Forum on Disability, which became the Business Disability Forum in 2012. Susan said, and I quote:

‘So you want to set up a business which means you need to talk to people who won’t want to talk to you about this subject, tell them things they don’t want to hear about, what they need to do differently and you expect them to pay you?’

Susan went on to say:

‘I’ve got to tell you, it doesn’t sound like a great business model.’

Actually, Susan went on to be very influential and supportive over the years and I’m not sure I could have achieved as much as I have without her advice, guidance and expertise – all of which she gave willingly.

Based on my experiences, the advice I would offer to disabled individuals who are considering a similar path would be to start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is my idea?
  • What is it I’m selling?
  • Will anyone pay for it?
  • How do I tell them about it and get them to buy it?
  • What is the competition like and what makes me unique?
  • How much money is it likely to make and is it enough?
  • Who can help me?
  • Will I enjoy it?

On top of that, of course, there are other questions around the practicalities associated with the effects of any disability. Providing advice on this subject is difficult as there are a wide variety of options available to assist disabled people in coping with the effects of their disability. It is, however, of major importance to utilise the advice and resources that are available to you. Despite what is often said, I found the Access to Work scheme very helpful, although I did have to ‘push’ a bit. Ultimately, I received the help I asked for which, in turn, helped me to understand what more I needed to make my business work. It is also very beneficial to speak with other individuals who have similar disabilities – it is amazing how much generosity and support is available.

When I started my business, I found that the key element was getting the basic idea sorted, and this then became my first priority. I remember it took me several months and a lot of pain to write my first business plan. My business mentor more-or-less threw out my first effort and made me start again, suggesting I be more realistic – something I have now done to others! After several attempts, my mentor eventually approved my plan, which ultimately proved very useful in helping me clarify what I needed to do and how I was going to do it. Without a good business plan, no one will take you seriously when starting up.

So, here are my tips:

  • Get a business adviser who knows what they are talking about and who you get on with
  • Consider finding a disabled mentor to help you through the issues about your own disability and the adjustments which might help you
  • Develop a realistic business plan but be prepared to be flexible
  • While developing your plan, talk to people to ask their advice, ask them if they think it would work and if they would pay for your services
  • Stick at it and do the things you don’t like doing as well as those you do
  • Remember, it is pointless having a great product no one wants to buy, or even worse, they don’t know about!

And finally, enjoy yourself!

Rick Williams CFCIPD

Managing Director Freeney Williams Ltd


For more information on Freeney Williams, visit: http://www.freeneywilliams.com

To follow Freeney Williams on Twitter, visit: https://twitter.com/freeneywilliams

Email: enquiries@freeneywilliams.com

Telephone: 01273 327715
Mobile: 07788 448428

Event round up: Accessible London, can it work?

On a cold December evening, we were delighted to be joined by a panel of industry experts and Business Disability Forum (BDF) Members and Partners for a lively debate on the realities, challenges and opportunities offered by an accessible London. The event was kindly hosted by our Partner HSBC in Canary Wharf.

The debate opened by BDF Associate and panel chair, Geoff Adams-Spink, asking our six panellists with expertise in transport, tourism, employment and housing to rate London’s current level of accessibility out of ten. With an average score of seven across the panel, we were intrigued to hear the panellists’ reasons for their ratings.

Panel of industry experts sitting on long table

Transport – some good intentions but slow progress 

In response to the question: “Is the Mayor’s aim of ensuring 53 per cent of all tube stations are step-free by 2024 enough?”, Christiane Link, Trustee at Transport for All and Director of Ortegalink Ltd, was very clear that the target should be 100% Tube accessibility. Christiane acknowledged that while Transport for London (TfL) has made great improvements to the accessibility of London’s buses, the fact the only 25% of London’s Tube stations are step-free at present shows the need for a roadmap for an accessible Tube system.

In response James Grant, Senior Communications Officer at Transport for London (TfL) outlined TfL’s phased approach to accessibility. This includes an additional 28 step-free Tube stations as well as the launch of the fully accessible Crossrail in 2019, demonstrating that where there is a roadmap, financial backing and creativity it is possible to deliver a fully accessible transport solution.

Step-free access versus other accessibility requirements 

Mark Berrisford-Smith, Head of Economics at HSBC shared his experience as a visually impaired commuter who regularly uses the (sometimes overzealous) voice announcements and tactile markers in many stations across the capital.

The panel queried why these relatively straightforward but effective solutions were not rolled out consistently across all stations including smaller outer London stations. James Grant explained that TfL’s strategic approach to improvements focussed on central stations like Victoria and Bond Street which improved journey opportunities for larger numbers of people. The panel acknowledged that while this would benefit disabled tourists, local disabled people who needed to travel into the capital from outer London and further afield were still disadvantaged.

As a final point in the discussion on accessible transport, the panel stressed that one of the biggest public transport challenges for disabled people was still the attitude of staff and the general public towards disability. This issue is being addressed by organisations like TfL who have been working with Transport for All to deliver disability awareness training to their bus and Tube drivers.

A row of Victorian-style houses

Above: Older buildings buildings such as these Victorian style homes pose problems for people with disabilities that wish to adapt a home to suit their needs, giving rise to a preference for new builds. Credit: Nigel Chadwick, Wikimedia Commons.

Is London’s housing stock accessible for people living with a disability or long term health conditions?

As Helen Carter, Interim Director at Centre for Accessible Environments and Neil Smith, Principal Advisor on Access at Greater London Authority outlined a number of challenges in terms of planning and development, it became clear that there were good opportunities for improving the accessibility of new builds in the capital.

By combining the concept of ‘lifetime housing’ to accommodate the changing health and access needs and educating architects and planners, real improvements could and were being made in accessible housing. Disabled peoples’ organisations outside London increasingly look towards the capital for best practice examples in terms of accessible new builds. However there are still significant challenges in terms of adapting older properties both financially and practically.

Working in London

We recently blogged on Access to Work (AtW), an outstanding labour market intervention. This evening we heard more praise from employees and employers who use the scheme and real concerns about its future. In keeping with the theme of the evening, BDF Associate Joanna Wootten reminded the audience that AtW can be used to fund transport to and from work where accessible transport isn’t available. It was suggested that improving the accessibility of London’s transport system could ultimately reduce the requirement for AtW to help fund transport, freeing up funding to support other aspects of employment.

In general it was felt that since the implementation of equality legislation there had been a significant improvement in the accessibility of corporate buildings in the capital and indeed of understanding how disability discrimination law applies to employers. Those employers who are committed to making their business accessible to disabled staff are also benefitting from unique market insights from disabled employees and therefore to market insights and disabled customers. However we also heard a number of examples highlighting the disability discrimination that still exists on the high street.

View of the Tate Modern from the Thames

Above: The Tate Modern, named the most accessible tourist attraction in the UK by Vitalise. Credit: MasterOfHisOwnDomain, Wikimedia Commons.

How welcoming is London to disabled visitors?

As we approached the end of the evening, the final part of our debate proved to be the most uplifting in terms of hearing how London really can claim to excel in accessibility as a tourist destination. Helen Carter mentioned a recent accessible tourism award won by BDF Member Tate and shared some creative solutions to adapting older historic buildings from Kew Palace and the Royal Opera House. It was felt that one of the main reasons for success in this area was down to consistently consulting with disabled people to develop services in a meaningful and useful way.

Richard Knowles, Head of Visitor Services at The Royal Collection spoke about their holistic and person centred approach to accessible tourism. This included listening to feedback from disabled visitors and working with BDF and access consultants to think creatively about the needs of all visitors including those with disabilities. During the evening, we had heard about accessible solutions for people with mobility and sensory impairments. Richard spoke about how the Royal Collection used technology to offer online tours of exhibitions and venues to help people with conditions like Autism to plan their visit and address any concerns associated with visiting an unfamiliar environment.

Technology was also increasingly being used to provide accessible information about journey planning and TfL are now using a more personal meet and greet service on key transport gateways into London.

So, could London become an exemplar city on accessibility?

If we are all agreed that the London tourist industry can rightly claim to be leading European best practice in accessible tourism, then why has London not been a serious contender for awards like Access City?

While many visitor attractions capitalised on opportunities offered by the 2012 Olympics and many of our large corporates understand the value of investing in the access requirements of a diverse workforce, our transport infrastructure, high streets and public attitudes towards disability still need improvement. We think that the evening’s event offered both encouragement and new opportunities for us to continue to work with our Members and Partners to help bring about further improvements to accessibility in London.


Interested in attending our next After hours event? Email events@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk with your details to be placed on our Events mailing list.

Why small businesses should forget the myth that hiring disabled people is ‘too hard’

This Saturday 6 December is Small Business Saturday in the UK. The aim of the day is to encourage consumers to support small businesses in their communities, and highlight the success of those that are getting things right for their customers.

Operating a small business can be tough – running on tight margins, competing with large businesses and dealing with high staff turnover are just a few of the many concerns on the minds of small business owners.

Image of a small business owner smiling on showroom floor

Recruiting for roles in a small business can be particularly hard when juggling these multiple priorities with day-to-day operations; it’s often tempting to settle for the person recommended by a friend or your neighbour’s relative who’s looking for work, just to temporarily fill the void.

If your business takes a similar approach to recruitment, you could be missing an opportunity to tap into the huge market of disabled talent here in the UK. There are 5.2 disabled people of working age in the UK, 53.7% of whom are not currently employed[i]. That’s a sizeable talent pool of 2.8 million people that might have the ideal attitude, skills and experience for your role.

In the past, the financial implications of making a hiring decision has prompted many small business operators to hesitate offering jobs to disabled people, regardless of whether or not they were the best person for the job[ii]. With 42% of disabled people looking for work naming employer attitudes as a barrier to successfully gaining employment[iii], initiatives such as the Department of Work and Pension’s (DWP) ‘Disability Confident’ campaign are looking to change assumptions about hiring disabled people.

Launched by the Prime Minister in July 2013, Disability Confident aims to dispel the myths about the complexities of employing disabled people, and increase awareness of the support available to employers of disabled people.

Part of this campaign involves bringing employers, including small business owners, together to discuss the support on offer from government and organisations like Business Disability Forum to improve employment outcomes for disabled people.

Image of an employee in a wheelchair holding a pot of flowers in a garden centre

The most significant support for small business employers comes in the form of ‘Access to Work’ (AtW): a labour-market intervention that provides grants to employers which can be used to pay for practical support for staff that have a disability, health or mental health condition. The types of support covered by AtW grants include the purchase of special equipment, a support worker to help disabled staff members in the workplace, and fares to work for staff who cannot use public transport.

Businesses with up to 50 employees do not have to contribute towards the cost of Access to Work grants, making it a viable and attractive option for small businesses thinking of employing a disabled person.

Recent changes to AtW have made the scheme even more appealing to small business; the ‘standard list’ of items AtW would not fund, which included vital equipment such as software and chairs, was withdrawn in 2013.

Once your business has made the decision to hire a disabled person, you may find that guidance and support is still needed to enable that person to be successful in their role, whether it be in the form of disability training for other staff or guidance for the new employee’s line manager.

Business Disability Forum offers a wide range of publications, tools and training to employers of disabled people. Our line manager guides can provide staff in your small business with practical advice on the best way to work with, manage and support disabled staff members.

In early 2015, we will also be launching a new suite of e-learning products suitable for small and medium sized businesses. E-learning is an ideal solution for SMEs, as it can be more cost and time effective than sending staff to face-to-face training. It’s a resource that can be used to train new staff, as refresher training for existing staff, or even to train your suppliers.

To enquire about our products and services for small business, contact us via email to enquiries@businessdisabilityforum.co.uk or call 020 7089 2452.

[i] Department of Work and Pensions, ‘Disability facts and figures’, 16 January 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/disability-facts-and-figures/disability-facts-and-figures#employment

[ii] BBC News, ‘Moves to help more disabled people into the workplace’, 18 July 2013: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23355252

[iii] Department of Work and Pensions, ‘National drive to boost disability employment: first ever Disability Confident roadshow tours Britain’, 21 November 2013: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/national-drive-to-boost-disability-employment-first-ever-disability-confident-roadshow-tours-britain

ATW is an outstanding labour market intervention NOT a welfare benefit

By Susan Scott-Parker

Blog-ATW-SSP-799x510

Access to Work (ATW) is a world class labour market intervention which removes the disability specific disadvantages that exclude so many unnecessarily from the UK economy. The scheme has liberated the economic and social inclusion of tens of thousands over the years – and, uniquely, it has benefited many non-users, as it enables job seekers and their advocates to immediately counter the all too frequently encountered employer assumption: “But disabled people cost too much!”.

However over the past two years ATW has struggled, as have those who depend on it and their employers. A recent restructuring has caused confusion, anxiety and hardship as individuals suddenly and without notice or explanation – other than “you cost too much”–  face the possibility of losing their jobs and/or careers. The fund designed explicitly to remove employment disadvantage now risks reinforcing or recreating that disadvantage.

In addition, ATW users who face the most disadvantage in the labour market increasingly report that they are subject to, or feel threatened by, seemingly arbitrary ‘cuts’ – ‘arbitrary’ as no policies explaining such cuts to individual support packages are in the public domain, nor is the detailed rationale for such cuts provided to the individual affected.

We need transparency regarding what is a ‘Rule for Administrative Consistency’ and where the advisor must exercise ‘Discretion via Guidance for tailored support packages’. The need for transparency becomes obvious when one considers the distress caused by what so many heard as the ’30 hour rule’ governing personal support workers – only to be told months later that this ‘rule’ was only ‘guidance’ and that this guidance is not in the public domain.

In addition, disabled people using ATW describe advisor behaviour which suggests that these officials are working on the ‘presumption of fraud’, and that they see as their primary purpose not removing work related obstacles, the cost of which differs greatly from person to person, but of cutting the cost per individual.

This is perhaps understandable in a department tasked with uncovering ‘scroungers’ while cutting the welfare bill, but it is clearly counterproductive given ATW is not a welfare benefit. It requires a different approach when setting out to become more cost effective, given every ATW user is in work or training. The sad irony is that in treating ATW users as though they were welfare recipients, DWP actually risks moving people from work onto the very benefit system government requires it to cut.

Obviously those who pose the greatest opportunity for ‘cost savings’ are disabled employees using the higher value support packages and who by definition are more dependent day to day upon the support which makes their employment possible in the first instance. In other words, it is precisely those most vulnerable in the labour market, those most likely to be long term unemployed, who present to the advisor as the most likely source of ‘cost savings’.

DWP needs to bring leadership to the table and to demonstrate quickly and very publicly that they are determined to deliver significant reform and to rebuild trust, determined to become more transparent and efficient – and to turn to its many allies and keen advocates for practical advice and support.

BDF has supported and admired ATW for years – we are confident that the programme can find its feet again and can use this difficult time as an opportunity and an inspiration for administrative and policy reform.

I cannot stress enough the significance of the insight that ATW is not a welfare benefit for excluded dependents on the state. It is government programme which helps to re-shape the labour market, making it more efficient by removing the labour market obstacles which would otherwise prevent so many from competing fairly for work. Clarity of purpose is essential if we are to create an ATW programme fit for the 21st century.

Given it is not a benefit and given it is not a job placement service, would it not be logical to move the programme from DWP to BIS? How might such a move be used to create an even greater impact on the labour market? Could a re-engineered and re-positioned ATW led by labour market experts remove obstacles preventing far greater numbers from contributing to economic growth?

BDF would be more than happy to offer to structure (pro bono!) a consultation which asks key stakeholders: What could be different about ATW? Could we maximise its impact on the labour market if it were positioned, managed and measured by BIS explicitly as a programme designed to make the Labour Market more efficient?

Stat of the day: Latest Access to Work statistics

By Angela Matthews

An ‘at a glance’ analysis of the latest Access to Work figures shows that an additional 4,260 people have been supported in work since October 2013.

Access to Work figures are not given for each quarter separately; instead, figures for each quarter are added to which means we get a bigger figure with each release. We can gauge trends by looking at the increases (as per the last column, “activity”). I have compared this morning’s release with that of October last year.

Types of conditions supported

We might not be surprised that support given for back/neck conditions and dyslexia are accelerating the most. Difficulties with speech and Spina Bifida are increasing the least.

There have been no further applications for support for stomach/liver/kidney/digestion or skin/disfigurement since October.

Condition

October

2013

January

2014

Activity

Missing or unknown

0

0

0

Arms or hands

810

1,090

+280

Legs or feet

1,680

2,040

+360

Back or neck

1,790

2,580

+790

Stomach, liver, kidney or digestion

80

80

0

Heart, blood, blood pressure, or circulation

180

220

+40

Chest or breathing

110

130

+20

Skin conditions and severe disfigurement

10

10

0

Difficulty in hearing

4,240

4,740

+500

Difficulty in seeing

3,940

4,330

+390

Difficulty in speaking

50

60

+10

Learning disability

1,320

1,460

+140

Progressive illness

1,470

1,650

+180

Dyslexia

2,350

3,000

+650

Epilepsy

880

980

+100

Diabetes

120

150

+30

Mental health conditions

670

870

+200

Cerebral Palsy

360

400

+40

Spina Bifida

80

90

+10

Other

2,640

3,140

+500

TOTAL

22,760

27,020

+4,260

Types of support

Assessments by themselves are increasingly popular, as is the provision of a support worker. Aids and equipment are also a high contender.

Type of adjustment

October 2013

January 2014

Activity

Adaptation to premises

20

30

+10

Adaptation to vehicles

60

110

+50

Communication support at interview

100

180

+80

Miscellaneous

20

30

+10

Miscellaneous with cost share

10

10

0

Travel in work

970

1,030

+60

Special aids and equipment

1,250

2,680

+1,430

Support worker

10,680

12,090

+1,640

Travel to work

10,450

11,300

+850

Access to Work Assessment

2,170

4,410

+2,240

TOTAL

25,710

31,860

+6,150