The government have finally admitted that spending on its Access to Work (AtW) employment support programme for disabled people has plummeted since 2010.
Disability News Service (DNS) has repeatedly reported on figures showing the number of disabled people receiving funding through AtW falling sharply since the coalition came to power.
Despite the figures, ministers continued to insist that the government was investing more in AtW, which provides funding for adaptations, equipment and ongoing support to make workplaces more accessible.
But this week, the new minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, told the Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz that AtW spending had fallen from £107 million in 2010-2011 to just £93 million in 2011-12.
McVey said she was unable to say how much spending would be for this year and the next two years because the figures were “subject to further change”.
Three months ago, Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, questioned Maria Miller, McVey’s predecessor, about the falling numbers of AtW claimants, but was told she should “check her facts”.
Miller insisted then that AtW was “actually spending more money than ever before in supporting disabled people across the country”.
A DWP spokeswoman also insisted to DNS in July that the government had “invested more money than ever before into the scheme”, even though its own figures showed the number of people claiming funding fell by more than 5,000 to 30,690 in 2011-12, a drop of nearly 15 per cent on 2010-11.
McGuire said she had now asked work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith “to clarify the two contradictory pieces of information on spending”.
She said: “When I challenged Maria Miller on the decline in spending on Access to Work and the drop in numbers of disabled people being supported through the programme, I was astonished when the minister said I had to check my facts.
“Well, the facts are there for all to see, and they show a significant decline in spend. I think the government are saying one thing while the reality is different.”
A DWP spokeswoman said this week that Miller did not believe she needed to apologise to MPs over her comments in July.
She said: “The figures that [Maria Miller] quoted were right at the time she appeared in the house and referred to the latest published Access to Work spending from the 2010-2011 financial year.
“Since then, 2011-12 figures have been published – these were provided to Mark Lazarowicz MP as requested.”
A review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, called last year for the number of disabled people receiving AtW to double, so the scheme could change from being the “government’s best-kept secret” into a “well-recognised passport to successful employment”.
But the numbers claiming AtW have instead continued to plunge since Sayce handed her report to the coalition.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com