Disability employment gap has been a huge waste of disabled people’s talent and potential - Scope
For the last ten years, the gap between the employment rate of disabled people and non-disabled people hasn’t closed, says Scope CEO Mark Atkinson.
This is an important week for the more than one million disabled people across the UK who want to work but are currently unable to.
That’s because the Government have just set out its plan on how it aims to support more disabled people to enter and stay in work.
This is a welcome moment in parliament, and a reminder to the Westminster Village that whilst talk of Brexit and gloomy budgets are fashionable and headline-grabbing, it is announcements such as the Work and Pensions Secretary’s this week that are equally important.
At Scope, we know that employment can be a lifeline for disabled people. It’s vital in bring about everyday equality and it’s vital to independence for disabled people.
Yet as we face the reality of economic growth forecasts revised down and productivity levels remaining stubbornly low, new thinking is needed as to how we address the problem.
Unleashing the potential of disabled employees is one way of doing this. At present, we know that there are one million disabled people who can and want to work. Yet too many face barriers to entering, staying and progressing in work. And for the last ten years, the gap between the employment rate of disabled people and non-disabled people hasn’t closed remaining stuck at 30 percentage points.
This is a huge waste of disabled people’s talent and potential. And it’s bad for disabled people and bad for business.
Scope welcomes the Government’s recognition that the Work Capability Assessment is not fit for purpose. As consultation begins on what should come next, Scope is clear that the Government must replace the WCA with a new assessment which more accurately recognises the barriers disabled people face to entering and staying in work.
Alongside this reform, the Government announcement that there are a series of proposals for testing out new ways of offering support to disabled people to move in to work is welcome and much needed.
Instigating a trial of personal budgets for employment support and testing out an offer of voluntary employment support for people in the support group of Employment and Support Allowance is the right way forward.
Importantly, this idea could ensure disabled people get the tailored support they need to get into employment and meet their career aspirations. It is important that any engagement with employment support has no impact on the financial support an individual receives.
Government won’t be able to fix the problems disabled people face entering into employment on their own. They need the buy in of businesses. That’s why we are pleased that Scope’s call for employers to publish more information on the number of disabled people they employ is a reform the Government is seriously considering.
We think this is positive news. It will help to give employers a better sense of areas where they’re doing well at recruiting and retraining disabled staff, and areas they need to look at where disabled people are underrepresented.
Crucially, the Government says it plans to radically improve the Access to Work scheme. This service provides essential resources and support that disabled people need to do their jobs.
It can make a huge difference to working disabled people, but we know that disabled people can face sometimes face issues with the scheme, such as delays in getting support, or loss of their package of support if they change role within the same organisation.
The Government has proposed changes to improve the delivery of the scheme. However, it is crucial the Government invests in Access to Work so that a greater number of disabled people can benefit from the scheme to help them stay in work.
Finally, the Government recognises that there needs to be more flexibility for employers too, so there is also a commitment to consult on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). This is money paid by an employer to their employee while they are off sick, either instead of, or after, occupational sick pay.
The Government’s proposal would help to increase disabled people’s income during a phased return to work after a period of sickness absence.
Like on so many issues, the pace of change is never quick enough. The Prime Minister has said she is committed to tackling the ‘injustices that face disabled people who want to work’
It will be our job over the next three years to hold Government to their promises and ensure the consultations announced amount to the real change that is needed.