Access to Work Cap Challenged in High Court

A disability rights campaigner has issued judicial review proceedings in the High Court challenging the government’s decision to cap support for disabled people in work under the Access to Work Scheme. David Buxton, a Deaf BSL user and CEO of the charity Action on Disability, brought the claim after his funding for BSL interpreters was slashed, leaving him with no communication support at all for two days a week and no second interpreters for long meetings. As a result, he struggled to find interpreters even when funding was available.

Mr Buxton, who is represented by Deighton Pierce Glynn and funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, is arguing that the cap is discriminatory and in breach of his human rights. 90% of those affected by the cap are Deaf BSL users. The cap was brought in with no formal consultation and is due to be applied to all recipients of the Access to Work Scheme from April 2018.

Mr Buxton said, “This case is being brought because the government has made the decision to limit my career by denying me the funds to pay for the linguistic access I need to be able to fulfil my job.  Access to Work is a fantastic grant which allows Deaf and disabled people to remain in employment and doesn’t make the disabled employee a ‘no-no’ on the grounds of cost. For me as a Deaf person, and a CEO, this means using professional Sign Language Interpreters at high level meetings with various authorities, policy makers, staff and members.  Putting a cap on the AtW grant makes no economic sense.  For every £1 I am awarded for AtW, I give back £1.48 in taxes by virtue of being employed (Sayce Review). It doesn’t stop there, in being employed, I give work to a number of interpreters, and, at other times to Palantypists who are all contributing in fulfilling ways and paying taxes too.  The impact of AtW is far-reaching and extremely positive.  Awarding AtW makes sense, a cap on AtW awards doesn’t.”

Solicitor Anne-Marie Jolly  from Deighton Pierce Glynn said, “As a result of this case, the government’s decision to cap Access to Work funding will finally be exposed to the scrutiny of the High Court. Government decision-making around Access to Work has historically been lacking in clarity and transparency. In keeping with that history, the decision to cap the scheme was made with no formal consultation or adequate evidence base, despite its profound impact on those affected. Mr Buxton’s claim makes the case that the Access to Work cap breaches Deaf and disabled people’s human rights and right to be treated equally. The cap perversely impacts on those with the most demanding jobs and highest support needs, the overwhelming majority of whom are Deaf BSL users, preventing them and their employers or businesses from reaching their fullest potential.”

Campaigns and policy manager Ellen Clifford from Inclusion London , whose Disability Justice Project is supporting the legal challenge, said, “The cap is already having a serious negative impact on Deaf and Disabled people’s employment. On the one hand, the Government says they want to reduce the disability employment gap and get another million disabled people into work, yet here is a disability employment scheme with a track record of success and it is being cut and changed to a point where it is no longer a viable form of support. Deaf and Disabled people are frustrated and anxious at the risk of unemployment and benefit dependency, which will come at a much higher cost to the State than the support package they need to remain in work.”

Geraldine O’Halloran, co-founder of StopChanges2AtW  said, “The idea put forward by the government that employers will pay for the support that Deaf and Disabled people need in order to do their jobs on an equal basis with non-disabled people is nonsense. However much an employer values you, the majority of employers don’t have the spare money to effectively pay to take on Deaf or Disabled staff. Yet in the bigger picture it benefits the government to invest in disability employment support with research showing that the Treasury makes a surplus on investment for every pound invested in Access to Work and that’s before the wider benefits of savings to the NHS and social care are taken into consideration.”

The government’s response is due on 16 January 2018, after which the court will decide whether to grant permission for the case to proceed.