Disability employment gap: what employers want to see from Government

Business Disability Forum CEO, Diane Lightfoot, explains what employers want the Government to do to close the disability employment gap.

In the Queen’s Speech in December, the Government announced plans to publish a National Disability Strategy to “support disabled people to achieve their potential” and close the disability employment gap. The Business Disability Forum believes that to achieve that potential; disabled people must have access to the same life chances as non-disabled people. Here CEO, Diane Lightfoot, explains.

This is particularly true when it comes to employment. We The Business Disability Forum are pleased, therefore, that the proposed strategy will include measures on housing, education and transport. These are vital areas of infrastructure, which significantly affect a person’s ability to access and stay in employment. We are also pleased to see that alongside the strategy, the Government is looking again at the disability employment gap – the difference in employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people.

We strongly believe that increasing employment opportunities for disabled people is not only the right thing to do but is vital in addressing the skills gaps and shortages currently experienced by many sectors. The employers we work with recognise the important contribution that disabled people make to the workplace and want to ensure that Government policy furthers the disability inclusion agenda.

With additional proposals on the disability employment gap expected by the summer, we want to state the actions which we believe the Government must take to enable businesses to enhance the lives of disabled people.


The disability employment gap

  • Introduce more targeted opportunities, including paid apprenticeships, for people with learning disabilities

At present, the employment rate of disabled people is 28.6 percentage points lower, than that of non-disabled people. The Government has committed to moving towards closing the disability employment gap by seeing an additional 1 million disabled people in employment by 2027.

Whil we fully support the ambition and sentiment of this target, we believe that setting a single target over simplifies the issue and fails to recognise the multiple employment gaps that disabled people experience.

Our Members tell us that they want to see more targeted support for people who are furthest from the labour market. In particular, they want to see more initiatives aimed at people with learning disabilities including paid apprenticeships. At present less than 6% of people with learning disabilities are in paid employment, compared with 53 per cent of disabled people overall. Closing the disability gap must mean creating employment opportunities for all disabled people.

  • Whole Government consideration of all policy development

In November, the Office of Disability Issues moved out of the Department of Work and Pensions and into the Cabinet Office. Having the Disability Unit sitting at the heart of Government realises the vision for a cross-governmental approach to disability.

We are calling for the new cross-government approach to focus on ensuring that each policy area communicates with each other effectively and works together on future policy.

We know that at present this is not happening. When the Government recently published its Inclusive Transport Strategy, for example, it highlighted the significant impact that inaccessible public transport is having on disabled people getting into work. At the same time, the Government reduced funding for transport-related Access to Work support, giving out a contradictory message on the value it places on closing the disability employment gap.

There is also too much policy which doesn’t join up for disabled people, which must be considered and reviewed. For example, different funding structures mean that disabled students face unnecessary difficulties when leaving university and moving from Disabled Students Allowance to Access to Work.

  • Reform of Access to Work and removal of the cap

When working as it should, Access to Work does what it says. It makes having a job possible.

Without reform, however, Access to Work risks discriminating against some groups of disabled people – people whose conditions mean that they need more costly support in place.

Employers are also telling us that they want to be more involved in Access to Work. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that adjustments are in place, yet it is the employee who has to claim for Access to Work.

We are calling for the cap on Access to Work to be removed and for improved communication between Access to Work and employers. At present, employers are not being kept informed of changes to Access to Work and the wait for reimbursement of costs can be significant.

  • All education and learning opportunities must be inclusive and accessible

Creating more accessible and inclusive learning opportunities will help to open up more employment opportunities to disabled people.

At present, accessible and inclusive learning provision is seen as good practice rather than as requirement. We are calling on the Government to regulate learning and education opportunities and learning standards to ensure they do not discriminate against disabled people.

We also want to see better Career Service provision for disabled students as they move into the world of work.

  • A shift from ‘one size fits all’ to outcomes focused initiatives

There has been much in the news recently around disability pay gap monitoring. Headlines have highlighted a 12.2% in the pay of disabled people and their non-disabled peers and this has led to calls for mandatory reporting on disability pay.

We strongly believe that disabled people should have access to fair pay, in the same as we believe disabled people should have equal access to employment.

We are less convinced, however, that measuring of either the pay gap or the disability employment gap will lead to more inclusive workplaces if taken in isolation. It must be considered as part of a broader cultural shift.

Data provides an important starting point for a debate, but it does not, on its own, provide the answers.

We work with several employers who have chosen to introduce disability pay gap reporting. We work with others who choose not to report on workforce data, but yet are operating way beyond the Government’s mandatory frameworks in terms of delivering increasing levels of disabled employee engagement.

We are calling on the Government to carefully consider how it monitors inclusion at work. We are concerned that the ‘one size fits all businesses’ approach puts unnecessary burdens on employers and risks becoming little more than a tick box exercise. We want to see a more flexible approach from the Government, which focuses on outcomes, informed by data, rather than on the data becoming the outcome itself. This is an issue which we will be discussing in more detail at our annual conference in April.

Employee engagement

We know through our membership that the appetite to increase employment opportunities for disabled people is real and growing.

As we look ahead to the summer, we call on the Government to ensure that their initiatives on disability employment are informed by experts – disabled people, employers and the organisations which represent them. Proposals must be evidence-based, joined-up and flexible with employee engagement as the ultimate measure of success.

You can read more about our asks of Government in 2020 is our ‘Manifesto for Inclusive Change’ here.

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