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Committee publishes report on Assistive Technology

Committee publishes report on Assistive Technology

12th May 2018

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has published its report on Assistive Technology. We’ll have a response from the Government shortly but, even before that, let’s dig into the report ourselves. The APPGAT used the findings from our parliamentary events and written input from our associate members to draw up an evidence submission for the committee. The APPGAT was cited seven times throughout the report, and several of our recommendations were reflected in those of the committee. The report covered topics from Access to Work, to Jobcentre Plus, to Pip, and even the Industrial Strategy. Let's take a look at the key findings and what they mean for future work in this area.  

Access to Work

The committee's focus was on AT for employment, and so it’s unsurprising to find Access to Work among the main topics addressed by the report. The APPGAT was among several groups who made suggestions to develop the Access to Work workforce so that needs assessors, in particular, understand the very latest technology for workplace adjustments. We were cited on this point, and the report took up the recommendation to improve training for assessors.

The Government may feel that adequate training and CPD requirements are already in place since the organisations it contracts to carry out the assessments all have programs of training and CPD for their assessors. But the evidence we’ve heard at APPGAT meetings suggests the need for a more robust framework for CPD and training, to be developed in collaboration with the whole AT sector, including needs assessors themselves.

The report also made a recommendation that Access to Work fund training on the technology the user already has, in addition to the training user receives on the new equipment they have been given. The APPGAT understands that this extra training is already possible within the access to work rules but is not common practice, so the government may accept the recommendation by publicising the option. Of course, the extra training should be just that, extra, and there is no suggestion that it replace training on the technology that has been purchased via Access to Work.

What both these recommendations point to is that government may need to become more involved in the issue of how access to work support is delivered. The government’s reluctance to prescribe the details of support delivery may be due to the status of the Access to Work program as a (discretionary) award that is used to purchase equipment and services, as opposed to a public service itself. But if the AT sector and other stakeholders can offer the government a framework for quality provision in Access to Work, perhaps modelled on the best aspects of the Quality Assurance Framework used in the Disabled Students Allowance, the government may come to adopt it. 

Jobcentre Plus

The committee set out to find new routes by which government can help people gain access to AT. The committee identified Flexible Support Funds as one such program. The program allows JobCenters to spend money to remove barriers to finding work, e.g. paying for travel to an interview (the fund can be spent on any client, not only disabled clients). The Committee sees the potential for Work Coaches to use the Fund to purchase assistive technology and training - a practice that is currently quite rare. Work Coaches could receive training and guidance to encourage them to use the fund for assistive technology. As the committee notes, the fund is tended to be underspent and so could be put to this new use without having to be expanded. This is an encouraging recommendation and could form the centrepiece of a wider commitment to improving AT provision for people who are seeking work. For instance, the Flexible support Fund cannot be used to help disabled clients on the new Work and Health Program; the government could consider removing this limit on the fund and/or the Work and Health Program itself could be used to help clients gain access to AT and training. In addition, there is a component of the Access to Work program internally referred to as ‘pre-employment support’, that funds assistive technology and other support for young people on supported internships. Yet we are unable to judge the success of this pre-employment support as we don’t have figures for how many young people take it up, or how successful they are in securing work after the internship ends. The APPGAT understands that the DWP is implementing a new computer system that will make the generation of such statistics possible (and in our submission to the committee we called for a full accounting of how far Access to Work reaches non-traditional clients: paid apprentices, self-employed people, and those on supported internships).

Personal Independence Payments

The Committee noted that the consumer market for assistive technology is underdeveloped. Many disabled people aren't able to afford to buy the assistive technology they need, especially when they are out of work. Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are made to some disabled people in recognition of the additional expenses they face. APPGAT associate member, Leonard Cheshire Disability, and others gave evidence to show that PIP could be used to help spread the cost of assistive technology. The PIP scheme currently allows recipients to buy a car or mobility aid through a special financing scheme called ‘Motability’; the same kind of financing may be used to help PIP recipients buy assistive technology. The committee endorsed this proposal, and noted Leonard Cheshire’s blueprint for the scheme, according to which PIP recipients would receive a needs assessment, expert recommendations, and set-up and product care. The government’s Work and Health Green Paper announced the creation of a Work and Health Innovation Fund to support ‘new research and trial activity’; if the government is not ready to fully adopt the Committee's recommendation by setting up the financing scheme, it might consider using that Fund to pilot the idea.

Industrial Strategy   

The Industrial Strategy is designed toboost the economy, build on the country’s strengths and embrace the opportunities of technological change’.The APPGAT recommended to the committee that the strategy be used to fund innovation in assistive technology and, at our subsequent panel event on the topic, we heard several recommendations for how this may be done. Alex Burghart MP, a member of the select committee and supporter of the APPGAT, spoke at the meeting and made a suggestion which turned out to be a preview of the report’s recommendation: the Industrial Strategy should include an assistive technology Challenge Fund. The report suggested that government bring together a ‘consortium of AT developers and entrepreneurs, users, employers and support providers to bid for funding’ to create new AT products and services. The APPGAT understands that such a consortium has indeed come together to express interest in bidding for such a fund; this commitment from the AT sector, combined with the select committee's report, makes a powerful case for putting disability innovation at the heart of the industrial strategy.   

The select committee report is a striking indicator of the rising profile of assistive technology in parliament, and it has surely raised awareness even further. Not all the report’s recommendations will be taken up by government but the set of recommendations provides a discussion point for the sector going forward, and, where the government makes positive changes in response to the report, the AT sector can help support new policies, to help more people gain access to the tools and training they need.