UNISON wins Access to Work victory

Union pressure sees government make changes to scheme to help disabled people working from home in the pandemic.

UNISON has won a major victory for disabled workers, after the Department for Work and Pensions announced that new help will be available to disabled people who are working at home, with Access to Work extended to include support for specialist equipment, travel costs and mental health.

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea wrote to the Chancellor in July calling for a “culture change in UK employers” so that disabled people who want to, can work from home, with additional funding for Access to Work to better enable that.

UNISON also met Treasury officials in July, when they were able to lay out the findings of research by the union.

A survey found that:

  • only 5% of disabled workers had help from Access to Work to work from home;
  • 41% did not know about Access to Work and 23% did not think Access to Work could help with working from home;
  • of those who applied for help, a number said they were still waiting, as key workers were being prioritised, revealing a lack of capacity and a need for additional investment if home working is sustained;
  • there is a gap where some employers will not pay for working at home adjustments as it’s not compulsory, but Access to Work won’t pay either, as it should be the employers’ responsibility. This is a good opportunity for the government to invest in home working and fill this gap.
  • disabled workers who have received help from the Access to Work programme have said that it has been excellent.

UNISON had asked the government for investment in Access to Work to overcome capacity issues revealed by COVID-19 and the explosion of homeworking.

The union also stressed that a new Access to Work fund was needed to cover homeworking adaptions that aren’t currently covered by the scheme, and there needs to be a publicity campaign so that all disabled workers are aware of Access to Work.

Ms McAnea, who has responsibility for bargaining, negotiations and equalities, said of the changes, that were revealed yesterday: “I’m delighted the government has listened to UNISON and extended Access to Work so that disabled workers can get the help they need to work from home.

“Many of our disabled members are worried about losing their jobs if they can’t go back to the workplace because of COVID-19. This will help them to keep their job and stay independent.

“But government needs make sure all disabled workers know about Access to Work and that employers don’t force disabled people back to the workplace when it’s not yet safe.”