Sarah Newton MP: We must ensure all disabled people who want to work have the opportunity to do so
We know that employers and disabled people themselves know best what they need. That’s why we’re listening, and constantly improving our services, says Sarah Newton MP, Minister for Disabled People.
It’s great news to see there are now more disabled people in work than out, and over the last five years 973,000 disabled people have entered employment. This is really encouraging, but we know there’s more to do to build on this progress and to ensure that all disabled people who want to work have the opportunity to do so.
Key to our approach is changing people’s minds, by showcasing the benefits of having a diverse workforce and the contribution that people with disabilities can make in any workplace.
The Government’s free employment scheme, Disability Confident is fast approaching the milestone of 10,000 businesses having signed up, an increase of over 4,000 in the last year alone. New research, published this week, shows that half of all Disability Confident employers have recruited at least one disabled person since joining the scheme, rising to 66% amongst larger employers. It’s great to see the scheme creating real opportunities for disabled people.
The Disability Confident scheme is intended to lead employers on a journey, so they will continue to enhance their disability employment ‘offer’. We commissioned research to assess what exactly is driving forward behavioural change among Disability Confident employers, while highlighting areas for improvement.
What really struck me about the results were the reasons employers listed for adopting more inclusive recruitment practices to attract more disabled staff. ‘Widening the pool of talent’ was the biggest reason UK businesses gave, while one in five simply said it ‘seemed like the right thing to do’.
With around a fifth of the working age population living with a disability or health condition, it’s important that we empower employers to be open in discussing any misconceptions they may have, to ensure they can discuss with experts and their peers how employing a disabled person can benefit their business.
We want to make life easier for disabled jobseekers, which is why they are now able to search for jobs displaying the Disability Confident badge on our new Find A Job website, with more than 8,000 Disability Confident vacancies currently listed.
Tailored support which enables disabled people to reach their full potential at work is key to our approach and Access to Work scheme, provides people with up to £57,200 a year to help with any workplace adjustments they may need. This can include assistive technology, transport or interpreters. Recent statistics show that last year we supported a record number of people through the scheme, including more young people and those with learning disabilities and mental health conditions.
Our own research, published today, shows that Access to Work is highly valued by users, but we are not complacent: we know there is always more to do to improve the support provided. That’s why we’re taking forward a range of measures to evolve the scheme so it supports as many people as possible.
We will be extending eligibility for the scheme to those with drug and alcohol addiction, and earlier this year we announced a new Tech Fund – making it easier for disabled employees to benefit from the innovation assistive technology can enable.
And we’re also introducing a new Access to Work workplace adjustment ‘passport’. This will provide people with a record of their adjustments so that a new employer will have a clear understanding of their requirements.
I’m committed to ensuring that people feel their needs are understood and are dealt with sensitively, and that’s at the heart of the Government’s agenda.
That’s why we’ve launched disability-specific specialist teams, who offer customers with impairments such as hearing or sight loss tailored support. We’re also taking forward improvements to the Access to Work digital service.
We know that employers and disabled people themselves know best what they need and can identify any gaps which need to be addressed. That’s why we’re listening, and constantly improving our services.
Sarah Newton is the Minister for Disabled People and Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth.