February 10, 2017 : Ruth Boyle

How can we tackle the disability employment gap?

As the UK Government try to close the gap, our sector is vital

If you don’t mind, travel back in time with me for a moment, a time before alternative facts, when statistics had some value.*

At present, in the UK, only 48% of individuals with disabilities are employed. Fact.

For the wider population, 80% are employed.

That’s a difference of 32 percentage points; the so-called disability employment gap.

The UK Government, in an attempt to halve the employment gap, has released a Green Paper on Work, Health and Disability. The aim is to change the way disabled individuals experience employability programmes and the labour market.

A recent report by DAS, explored what it means to have a disability in Scotland today. Based upon the lived experience of disabilities, the report found persistent issues in accessing transport, work and services.

Within the report, one individual remarked:

“If you are working it makes you feel better rather than having to sit in a room because you have nowhere to go and no money to go out and do something.”

It makes perfect sense that a disability shouldn’t stop an individual from living a fulfilling life. But right now, the systems of welfare, social care and employability are letting people down.

If the right work can have economic and social benefits for people with disabilities and long-term conditions, how do we make this a reality?

SCVO recently held a roundtable with disability organisations and Community Jobs Scotland employers to hear their thoughts.

Lots of issues and points for consideration came out of the discussion:

  • People with disabilities have been among those least well-served by the Government’s approach to employment and welfare.
  • Focusing on job outcomes is not enough. Work has to be fulfilling, fair and enable progression.
  • Current support, such as Access to Work, is inflexible and bureaucratic which does not enable personalised support.
  • Devolution of employability and social security to Scotland must be taken as an opportunity to change the culture of benefits which DWP staff well-trained to support individuals with disabilities, mental health problems and long-term conditions.
  • Paid employment is not always a realistic goal for everyone. In these cases, there should be alternative means of contribution to promote fulfilling lives.

Cultural change was also seen as vitally important, but this is a slow process. A recent survey found that a third of employers were concerned about possible discrimination claims when hiring disabled individuals and 12% thought disabled people were more likely to need time off work.

If the right work can have economic and social benefits for people with disabilities and long-term conditions, how do we make this a reality?

The third sector is seen as a nurturing, supportive environment and there are a wealth of opportunities in our sector. However, for real success that works for individuals, the private sector and the public sector have to be open to change too. Perhaps the third sector should be sharing its learning on employability.

There are many agendas which overlap here; the Developing the Young Workforce strategy, the Labour Market Strategy and the Fairer Scotland Action Plan, to name a few.

But it’s how these agendas come together that’s important.

As my colleague Craig points out in his recent blog, with Theresa May’s focus firmly on productivity the Government might start taking shortcuts. Where would this leave the drive for better jobs, fair jobs and inclusive employment?

However, with research by the Social Market Foundation indicating that achieving the goal of closing the employment gap would boost the economy by £13 billion, surely everyone is a winner when this agenda is prioritised?

There are some problems with the Green Paper. For example, how does the Government expect to do more for less money? How do the proposals fit with planned devolution?

If you have experience as an employer, or an organisation working to further the rights of disabled individuals, you can find out more about the consultation and respond here.

*This is not a bid to be the next Doctor Who, although a female Doctor would be nice.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Ruth Boyle