I’m writing a love letter to a Government policy initiative… I may be the first person to do so!
However the support I have receive through Access to Work (AtW) is so important to me that I feel compelled to say how much I love it.
When I relocated to London from Ireland in the mid-1990s, to work at the BBC as an advisor on disability employment, there was no accessible transport. I had to take taxis everywhere.
Early in my career, I didn’t have a lot of money and I used my credit card to pay for taxis, which meant running up a huge bill. I seldom went out, and reduced my heating and grocery bill to help pay travel costs.
It was a tough time, but I’d studied hard and relocated and was determined to remain in work.
When I started a new job in 1998 at RADAR as policy lead on independent living, a disabled colleague told me about AtW – a scheme which had been set up by Government in 1994, to help meet the additional costs a disabled employee might face as a result of their disability.
I applied to the scheme and finally got some funding for my travel costs. It was wonderful!
AtW enables me to travel to and from work via a wheelchair-accessible taxi.
I live in a part of London not well-served by accessible public transport. I have tried many, many times to use public transport to go to work, but this has proved very difficult and involves taking three buses, as no local tube stations are accessible.
As a wheelchair user, it is difficult and at times impossible to take a bus at rush hour. Anyone who knows me will say I am no shrinking violet, but I find it very challenging to get passengers to make space for me in the designated wheelchair space.
Getting three buses to work takes two hours each way. The reliability of bus ramps is also not good – in one week, the bus ramps were faulty on half the journeys I took!
It is fair to say that the fund has transformed my working life.
Thousands of other disabled employees have been able to remain in and progress in work thanks to the scheme.
In 2013/14 over 35,000 disabled people received support. For some, this will be a one-off cost of an adaptation or piece of equipment. For others it will mean ongoing support, such as transport or sign language interpreter.
In recent months, I have heard of very worrying cases of people having had their AtW support removed, causing great stress and concern.
In one case, a person’s spouse was required to attend work with them to act as their interpreter, as funding for this support was withdrawn.
Actress Julie Fernandez has also recently blogged about her experiences of cuts to her AtW funding.
These stories really worry me.
I wouldn’t be in work now without the help of Access to Work. It is one of the most progressive Government initiatives on work and disability. In her review into disability employment support, Liz Sayce described it as the “best kept secret in Government”.
Too often disabled people are invisible in society and in the work place. How many disabled people are in your work place? How many more could be there if they had support through Access to Work?
We want to show MPs how important #AccesstoWork is for thousands of disabled people in work. We’d love to hear why it’s so important for you.
(Photo by Peter Hellberg)