§ Mr. Nigel Evans
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is she will make a statement on the operation of access to work in 1996–97. 
§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard
The Government are committed to helping people with disabilities to secure jobs and satisfying careers at work. Our Disability Discrimination Act 1995 will significantly improve opportunities for disabled people. The access to work programme also has a part to play, and the Government recognise the high regard which disabled people and employers have for the programme.
Access to work is not a demand-led programme. Although I increased the 1995 budget substantially during the year, from £13.4 million to £19 million, I had to announce on 14 December restrictions on eligibility conditions for the remainder of 1995–96 in order to 490W prevent a major cost overrun. I also announced that, before I reached decisions on 1996–97, my Department would hold discussions with the disability and employer organisations principally concerned and I would take into account research and other data on the first year of operation of the programme.
In light of those considerations, I have decided for 1996–97 that, in addition to continuing to provide help to those who are unemployed, eligibility should be reinstated for employees and the self employed. This restores the eligibility criteria which applied before the December announcement.
As now, the Employment Service will continue to identify approved costs for the purposes of ATW with reference to the value of any wider benefit which accrues to the organisation. ATW will continue to meet 100 per cent. of the approved costs for unemployed disabled people. The ES will also pay 100 per cent. of approved costs for travel to work and for communicator support at interviews for all groups.
For disabled people in employment, ATW will meet up to 80 per cent. of approved costs above a cost threshold of £300 per year. With a view to the needs of the most severely disabled, ATW will however, provide 100 per cent. of all such costs in excess of £10,000 over three years. The Government recognise that particular factors may apply in the case of the self-employed and we shall consider this issue further.
Multi-year commitments to individuals will be made for a maximum of three years. The ES will accordingly review cases where commitments have been made for longer periods.
The new arrangements will apply from 1 April for the unemployed, as will travel to work and communication support at interviews for all groups. Other support for employed people will take effect from 1 June, so that the necessary new administrative arrangements on cost sharing can be implemented effectively by the ES, along with support for the self employed.
The ATW budget is cash limited and expenditure will be monitored closely. Should further prioritisation of ATW support prove necessary at any point, the Government will continue to give top priority to the unemployed, followed by those in work who suffer the onset of a disability or major worsening of a disability, and then those whose job circumstances change and those who seek to move to a new employer.
The ES will continue to discuss detailed implementation of the arrangements with the organisations principally concerned. On this basis, I am pleased to announce that I am increasing planned provision for ATW in 1996–97 from £12.9 million to £19 million. I shall be considering provision for ATW in future years in the course of the 1996 public expenditure round.
This significant increase in the budget for the programme will, I believe, be welcomed. In particular, I am pleased to be able to restore eligibility to the employed and the self-employed, as this will help them retain jobs and to progress at work. I believe that these new arrangements strike the appropriate balance in 491W helping to meet the needs of people with disabilities, particularly those who need the most expensive types of help, while putting the available resources to best use.