employedMore than 2,000 people with a learning disability were helped by the government’s Access to Work initiative in the year to March 31, 2015, with more new awards than ever before, according to new figures.

Users of Access to Work can receive help with travel to work as well as access to support workers and specialist adaptations to help overcome the challenges they face in the workplace. Employers receive financial support with the extra costs associated with employing a disabled person beyond reasonable adjustments expected under the law.

Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, said: “It’s great news that more people are taking advantage of the support on offer through the Access to Work scheme. These figures show we are making real progress in supporting disabled people to find and stay in employment – delivering on our commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

“With almost a quarter of a million more disabled people in work compared to last year it’s clear employers are waking up to the talent that is out there.”

To build on the latest growth in user numbers, the government will expand the existing Mental Health/Fluctuating Conditions Team of Access to Work advisers into a Hidden Impairments Specialist Team. This will target support at people with mental health conditions and learning disabilities as well as dyslexia, autism and other less visible disabilities.

However, despite the figures, more still needs to be done, according to Sarah Lambert, head of policy at the National Autistic Society: "[The government’s] figures are welcome, though we have concerns that people on the autism spectrum are still disproportionately locked out of employment.

“Just 15% of people on the autism spectrum are in full-time employment, despite the fact that 79% of those on out-of-work benefits tell us they want to work. This is often due to inadequate support and misunderstandings related to the hidden and complex disability. 

“Having committed to halving the disability employment gap in its election manifesto, it is essential that the Government does more to help people on the autism spectrum to find and stay in employment, including strengthening the role of Access to Work. The announcement of a Hidden Impairments Specialist Team is a step in the right direction, with the potential to transform the experiences of autistic adults in the workplace.

“The government must now invest in the team to make sure there are enough advisers and that they have specialist training in autism.

“The right workplace support can unlock the hidden potential of a whole new group of employees, many of whom bring different skills and strengths to the workplace.”