There are purportedly two key drivers of government policy:

1. This policy makes things better.
2. This policy reduces government spending.

Of course the best policies or programmes, particularly in deficit reduction Britain, is where the two align. Access to Work is a strong example of a programme that works on both these fronts. It helps people to work and it saves the government and wider society money.

RNIB has recently commissioned the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion to carry out a cost benefit analysis of the Access to Work (ATW) scheme.

Specifically, the research identified the extent to which money invested by the Government in providing ATW support for blind and partially sighted people, and disabled people in general, benefits the wider economy. The findings  are based on data and financial statistics consistent with the Government’s own published information.

The report indicates that the overall benefits of ATW to society outweigh its costs, and constitute a beneficial form of public spending.

Key findings:

On the basis of the available evidence, the authors concluded that the overall benefits of ATW to society outweigh its costs by a considerable margin with ratios of these benefits to the costs of 3.86 for ATW as a whole and 2.48 for that part of the programme that assists blind and partially sighted individuals. This demonstrates that ATW is a beneficial form of public spending.

It should be noted that these results are not an update on the much quoted 1.48 figure produced by RNIB in 2004. That 2004 figure is an estimate of the ratio of fiscal flow backs to the Exchequer to the costs of ATW.

For ATW as a whole over 2011-12 to 2013-14, the programme is estimated to generate on average £1.14 in fiscal flow backs per £1 spent on the programme.

[But] these narrow fiscal impact calculations are not the right basis on which to determine whether a public programme represents good value for money. The basis for that decision is our wider cost benefit analysis figures which take account of all potential benefits to society against the programme’s costs. There are after all many public services rightly provided by the state where the costs of doing so outweigh any fiscal flow backs. These are provided because it is judged that their benefits to society outweigh the costs of providing them.

In the year 2013-14, ATW supported 35,450 people with disabilities. 14% (5,120) of users were blind or partially sighted.

Potential benefits for ATW participants include reduced sickness, improved attendance, retained employment, development of working skills, increased income and better health and wellbeing.

Gains for employers from ATW consist of improved productivity, lower employee turnover, a better understanding of the needs of disabled employees and the increased wellbeing of staff.

Travel to work provides invaluable support to users, with both employers and employees stating that the travel to work strand is very necessary for the user to continue working. Research has found that travel to work would be the type of support least likely to continue without public funding.

Support workers were equally valued by users and employers, with both certain it provided enormous value within the workplace.

All in all, this report helps to make the case for an expanded ATW as a valuable tool in seeking to narrow the disability employment gap.

By Geoff Fimister & Andy White (Royal National Institute of Blind People)