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MORE than 50 business leaders have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister urging him to deliver on his promise of a truly transformative National Strategy for Disabled People.

In the letter – organised by the Centre For Social Justice’s Disability Commission – the signatories say: “Disabled people have waited long enough; now is the time for action”.

Business CEOs, including Dame Emma Walmsley of GSK, Dame Carolyn McCall of ITV and Amanda Blanc of Aviva, urge the PM to consider the Disability Commission’s proposals and say: “We stand ready to play our part”.

The CSJ Disability Commission is chaired by disabled Conservative member of the House of Lords Kevin Shinkwin, and comprises both disabled and non-disabled members from the business, academic, disability and parliamentary worlds.

Lord Shinkwin says: “The mounting pressure from business on the PM reflects the growing need to seize the once in a generation opportunity presented by his National Strategy for Disabled People. They know we’ve only got one shot at this. We’ve been so impressed by the clear appetite for change that we’ve decided now is the time to launch a campaign to halve the disability employment gap. It’s crucial we harness this exciting momentum.”

According to the Office of National Statistics, disabled people have been hit particularly hard by Coronavirus, including seeing a widening of the disability employment gap. Currently, just 52% of disabled people are in employment compared with 81% of non-disabled people.

Alongside the letter, a ground-breaking report “Now Is The Time” makes five key recommendations to vastly improve the employment prospects of disabled people throughout the UK.

The recommendations include:

  • Increasing supported routes into employment
  • Introducing mandatory workforce reporting
  • Leveraging Government procurement
  • Reforming the Government’s Disability Confident scheme
  • Reforming the Government’s Access to Work scheme

The Commission’s report argues that a until employment disadvantage is addressed, disabled people will continue to face social exclusion, financial hardship, and reduced wellbeing.

The report also covers four other areas of life for disabled people: transport, education, housing, and access to goods & services. It makes extensive policy recommendations which, if enacted, would enable disabled people to participate more fully in society and realise their potential.

Tanni Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE, gold medal-winning former Paralympian and a Commissioner, says: “Despite the very welcome improvements in legislation since the Disability Discrimination Act, the experience of the last 25 years shows that laws on their own aren’t enough.

“The political will to enforce them is crucial. Right now, disabled people feel that we’re going backwards. That’s why we really need the PM to keep his promise of a transformative strategy and drive change from the front.”

David Forbes-Nixon, Commission Deputy Chair, says: “Having a disabled son has opened up my eyes to the inequalities in education, employment and life chances for disabled people in the UK.

“I hope the Commission’s recommendations, particularly in employment, will be embraced by the Prime Minister in his National Strategy for Disabled People so we can draw on this extraordinary and untapped talent pool.”

THE CSJ DISABILITY COMMISSION

The Disability Commission is an independent body backed by the Centre For Social Justice. Its report, “Now Is The Time”, makes five key recommendations to reduce the disability employment gap:

Increasing supported routes into employment – high quality supported internships that involve job coaches and learning support have been proven to be highly effective in supporting individuals with the lowest employment rates into work. The Commission makes a series of recommendations focused on increasing the quality, supply, and awareness of supported internships.

Introducing mandatory workforce reporting – the Government acknowledges the benefits of transparent reporting, stating in the introduction to the framework for Voluntary reporting on disability, mental health and wellbeing, which it introduced in November 2018 to encourage employers to report the prevalence of disabled people in their workforce, that ‘transparency is a vital first step towards harnessing the power of a diverse workforce’. The Commission calls on the Government to realise the full benefits of workplace reporting by requiring all employers with 250+ employees to report the proportion of their workforce that is disabled. It also calls on the Government to extend gender pay gap reporting to disability, which will enable firms to monitor whether disabled people are being given equal access to better paying, more senior roles.

Leveraging Government procurement – the Government spends £292 billion per year buying goods and services from external suppliers. The Commission recommends recent reforms to the Public Sector (Social Value) Act are extended to require all large public sector contract award decisions to take tendering organisations’ disability employment records into account, and to require organisations with public contracts to work towards increasing the proportion of disabled people within their workforce.

Reforming the Government’s Disability Confident scheme – to ensure all employers at the scheme’s higher levels (level 2 ‘employers’, and level 3 ‘committed’) have above a minimum percentage threshold of disabled people within their workforce.

Reforming the Government’s Access to Work scheme – introduced in 1994, this provides funding for the adjustments disabled people need to perform their role, and to enable them to get to and from work. This has transformed many disabled people’s employment opportunities, but problems with the scheme remain, not least that too few employers and disabled people are aware of it. As such, the Commission recommends an extensive awareness raising campaign; reducing administrative burdens and delays within the application process; the passporting of adaptations between organisations; and, importantly removing the annual funding cap.