Access to Work Assessments

Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at on 13 May 2024.

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Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

What steps his Department is taking to reduce waiting times for Access to Work assessments.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

Access to Work remains in high demand. We have increased the number of staff processing Access to Work claims, and are prioritising both renewal applications and applications from customers about to start a job. We are also improving the service through increased digitalisation to reduce the time from application to decision.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

On this, there is a litany of broken promises to disabled people. Ministers have failed to tackle the backlog, failed to open the scheme to more employers, failed to extend the scheme to apprenticeships and failed to passport packages of support. So why have Ministers now decided to hit disabled people with more brutal cuts to PIP, when they have not supported disabled people into work through Access to Work?

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

The average timescale for an Access to Work application decision in April 2024 was 43.9 days. We have increased the staff on applications, redeploying 95 staff from wider DWP work. Despite the hon. Gentleman’s points, claims for reimbursement are in a good position within a 10-day ambition to pay. It reflects the ambition that employers have and their mindset change to be more open-minded with their recruitment, and I am delighted about that.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Let’s get some facts. On 1 January 2024, there were 24,874 people awaiting an Access to Work decision, on 1 February, 26,924, on 1 March, 29,871 and on 1 April, 32,445. Every month, the figure keeps increasing, so since the beginning of 2024 the Access to Work backlog has risen by more than 7,500. Does the Minister really think this is supporting more disabled people back into work?

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I thank the hon. Lady for her points. If we are trading figures, at the close of business on 7 May 2024, there were 36,721 applications awaiting decision. I remind those people listening why this matters. This is very significant support—demand-led support—for people who are getting opportunities to work or taking on new roles. This grant can provide up to £66,000-worth of flexible personalised support per person per year. It is absolutely right that we get the right information from the individual and take time to approve a significant application such as this.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I am absolutely shocked that the Minister brags about the Access to Work backlog increasing to 36,721.

Last month, the UN published its latest review of how the UK has implemented its convention on the rights of disabled persons, the first since 2017. The Access to Work backlog was just one of the many reasons cited as evidence that the Government are still failing to take all appropriate measures to address grave and systemic violations of disabled people’s rights. Does the Minister have any plans to put this right by finally implementing the UN’s recommendations, or is she going to ignore them, as successive Tory Governments have consistently ignored disabled people?

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I am disappointed not to be enough of a bragger in this House, but I am very pleased that we are taking time to make sure that the tailored support is correct. We are working around fit notes and occupational health. We are also listening to those who are deaf and hard of hearing, who make up 36% of the total Access to Work expenditure, and I will be bringing more to the House on that matter. We are absolutely focused on improving this, with online 24/7 applications for Access to Work. On the other points the hon. Lady makes, if she listens to the BBC “Access All” podcast, she will hear me say that we are very disappointed about that report. We continue to work very hard for disabled people and we will be doing all we can to make sure they are listened to—unlike her not listening to a word I said just now.