A new report published by RNIB Cymru and Wales Council of the Blind has found that blind and partially sighted people in Wales face many challenges getting the support of the “Access to Work” scheme.
The Government’s “Access to Work” scheme is designed to provide practical support and advice to disabled people and employers to help overcome work related obstacles resulting from a disability.
For those that do gain employment the Access to Work programme is essential for providing support and specialist equipment to enable people to carry out their roles.
There are around 110,000 blind and partially sighted people in Wales. Two thirds of working age blind and partially sighted people are not in work. UK Government research has shown that 90% of employers believe that it would be impossible or difficult to employ someone with sight loss - presenting huge barriers to finding work.
In focus groups, blind and partially sighted people explained the difficulties they encountered with the Access to Work application process, with the assessment itself, and often with obtaining the support they were allocated.
Many recipients cited issues with the assessors including:
- Poor customer service.
- Assessors ignorant of the need to provide information in an accessible format.
- Assessors ignorant of the right to privacy insisting that someone helps the client fill out forms.
- Clients told how much an assessment costs and asked whether or not they thought they needed one.
- Poor awareness of the geography of Wales when understanding how someone will travel to work
RNIB Cymru Director Ceri Jackson said: “This sort of behaviour and ignorance seems to be rife within the system and means that those trying to access it are left feeling embarrassed.
“Assessors need to ensure that the client has the right support and access to the best technology. We want the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that Access to Work truly is accessible. If they do not, there is a chance that any cost benefits of the programme will be lost. As a country our economy could benefit enormously from helping more people into work or we risk being harder hit financially than the rest of the UK.”
Wales Council of the Blind Director Owen Williams said: “There is overwhelming support from disabled people, employers and third sector organisations for the Access to Work programme in Wales. However, people with sight loss have raised concerns about changes to the programme, and we are concerned that it is currently flawed in some areas.
“Since the restructuring of Access to Work, we know that a very different service has been offered. People with sight loss are reporting inconsistency, complexity, lack of empathy, lack of information and guidance, and regret about losing the single named advisor.
“We heard about people with sight loss were experiencing a range of difficulties. This report offers recommendations and it is hoped that these will be seriously considered by Access to Work to improve their service.”