By Daniel Hunter

Disabled entrepreneurs and small businesses will benefit from more support to pay for specialised equipment and other costs faced by disabled people in work under changes to the Government’s disability employment programme.

The programme, Access to Work, provides financial help towards the extra costs faced by disabled people at work, such as travel costs, specially adapted equipment and support workers.

"Work is more than a job — it’s one of the best ways to increase independence, life fulfilment, social engagement and is central to someone’s identity," Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey said.

"And although the disability employment rate has increased over recent years, there is still more we need to do to close the gap with non-disabled people.

“That is why we are now making these changes to Access to Work, to widen the scope of those who can benefit from this support, because disabled people aspire to the same jobs as everyone else.

"By opening up the Access to Work programme it will give disabled people more opportunities to have the same choice of jobs as everyone else, in every sector from hairdressing to engineering, and at every level."

The changes announced mean:

- Businesses with up to 49 employees will no longer pay a contribution towards the extra costs faced by disabled people in work, saving them up to £2,300 per employee who uses the fund;

- Disabled jobseekers who want to set up their own business through the New Enterprise Allowance will now be eligible for Access to Work funding from day one of receiving Job Seekers Allowance; and

- Access to Work advisers will be given more flexibility in deciding which equipment is funded through the scheme, offering more choice to disabled people in work.

The Government will also implement a package of measures recommended by the Access to Work expert panel, chaired by Mike Adams from the Essex Coalition of Disabled People (ecdp).

The measures include funding the physical transfer of equipment, introducing a ‘fast-track’ application process where appropriate, and working with employers to find more imaginative solutions to support individuals. The panel will continue to advise DWP on further reforms to ensure the best use of funding.

Access to Work has previously been called ‘the Government’s best kept secret’ so to raise awareness of the changes, the Government will expand the marketing campaign — targeting particularly at young disabled people and those with mental health conditions.

The Government has already announced £15m additional funding for Access to Work and the extension of the support to young people taking part in work experience through the Youth Contract.

Last year the programme helped 30,000 disabled people keep or get employment. Research also shows that around half (45 per cent) of Access to Work customers would be out of work if they did not receive support through the scheme.

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