Physiotherapists are today urging Government to reconsider plans to remove public sector funding from the Access to Work scheme.
Access to Work currently makes it possible for many disabled people to gain or remain in employment, and removing it for public sector employees potentially puts thousands of workers at a disadvantage.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) is calling on TUC Congress in Brighton to put pressure on the Department for Work and Pensions not to remove AtW funding from the public sector in favour of the private sector.
For nearly 15 years, the Government-funded Access to Work scheme has provided vital support to disabled workers and their employers.
It has greatly improved employment opportunities for many people with disabilities – 24,000 in the year 2006/7 alone – reducing inequalities in the workplace by meeting the costs of extra equipment and assistance (see note 3).
However, these new proposals would leave public sector employers to fund additional support from their general budgets rather than AtW funding, and leave thousands of disabled employees facing inconvenience and possible discrimination.
Physiotherapists play a key role in helping people with health problems or disabilities to remain in or return to work.
The CSP is arguing that without access to central funding disabled people, as well as the CSP’s own disabled members, will be left to go “cap in hand” to employers for provision of reasonable adjustments and support.
The withdrawal of public service funds will also mean that budgets currently earmarked for items such as medical supplies and school textbooks will be used to pay for the extra support needed by disabled workers.
Chartered physiotherapist and shop steward Cliff Towson, who is proposing the motion to Congress, said:
“There’s an incorrect perception among some employers that the additional support needed by many disabled workers will be expensive. This is why the funding from the Access to Work scheme is so powerful in helping people with disabilities into employment and keeping them there.
“Even though the Government recently announced plans to double the funding for Access to Work by 2014, there’s no commitment from them to provide additional investment to public sector budgets. This would see huge numbers of disabled workers put at a massive disadvantage.
“These proposals cannot be allowed to expand throughout the public sector. We urge the Government to look seriously at the impact their plans will have on disabled workers, and to expand Access to Work throughout both the private and public sectors, not withdraw it.
“Otherwise we will see a real backward step for people with disabilities and it can only harm their employment prospects for the future.”
A pilot of the public sector funding withdrawal has already been carried out within Ministerial Government Departments.
The trade unions affected by the pilot have reported to the TUC that disabled workers were being put off of asking for help and assistance.
Union reps have also found it harder to argue for the recruitment and retention of disabled employees without a ringfenced fund for their support, and are now convinced that the non-availability of AtW funding leads to discrimination against potential or existing disabled staff.