The government spent a record £129.1m on Access to Work scheme grants to help disabled people in the workplace last year, official figures have shown.
The figure marks a record high, and is a real-terms £15m increase on the levels of annual spending on the scheme since 2010.
The funding has provided a record 36,240 individuals with grants to pay for workplace adjustments such as specialist equipment, travel to work or sign language interpreters.
Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said the increase in spending should be applauded, but there was still more to be done.
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“It's encouraging that there has been an increase in the number of people helped by Access to Work, but there is still scope to improve its reach as there are many more people than 36,000 with a disability or health condition in work or who want to access work,” she said.
Suff added that while a majority of HR managers were aware of the Access to Work scheme, there was still a need for wider awareness among employers.
“Last year, CIPD research showed that 60 per cent of people management professionals had heard of the scheme and a third had used the scheme; of the latter, nearly three-fifths had found it very helpful. Access to Work therefore has the potential to really help people with a disability or health condition access the changes they need at work,” said Suff.
“For this to happen, there needs to be wider awareness of the scheme across employers.”
Access to Work is a government-run scheme that provides grants of up to £57,000 a year to help address workplace barriers faced by disabled people and those with health conditions.
However, Angela Matthews, head of policy and research at the Business Disability Forum, raised concerns that the latest figures suggested many employers were not using the full amount available to them.
"Access to Work is a great asset to our workforce, and it has been the difference between many people being and not being in work,” said Matthews. “However, the number of individuals supported by Access to Work in the latest figures indicate that many are not using the full amount of their £57,000 cap. At the same time, others are decreasing their hours and leaving their jobs because the support they need exceeds the amount of the cap.
“The figures also show that Access to Work is massively underutilised: 36,240 people were supported last year, and the government’s current target is to get one million more people into work."
Justin Tomlinson, minister for disabled people, said the support provided by the grants meant there was “no excuse for employers that refuse to be inclusive”.
“Access to Work removes the obstacles facing disabled people in the workplace, helping to level the playing field and ensure businesses don’t see employing disabled people as a burden,” he said.
“With more disabled people than ever before supported through Access to Work, thousands more employers across the country are benefitting from the skills disabled people bring to the workplace.”