In the Spring Budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed the Government would continue to support businesses and employees financially through COVID-19. While many business owners and furloughed staff liked what they heard, how will the 26 million disabled people in the UK be affected?
Business Disability Forum (BDF), a non-profit organisation linking the disabled community with businesses and the Government, has analysed the Budget’s policies and its impact on disabled people in the UK.
The organisation welcomed Sunak’s extension of the furlough scheme until late September as many of its members will be forced to continue to shield themselves from the workplace due to their health conditions.
The forum also commended the Government’s introduction of the “£7 million “flexi-job” apprenticeship programme,” which enables apprentices to work for a number of employers in any one sector.
However, they stressed the need for the scheme to be “inclusive and accessible to disabled apprentices”, including providing effective Access to Work (ATW), a Government programme to get more disabled people into work.
The BDF said they had heard of disabled people losing work opportunities “because ATW could not respond quickly or effectively,” which is a concern and a barrier to plugging the disability employment gap.
However, they were happy to see the introduction of the “Recovery Loan Scheme” for businesses of all sizes to borrow up to £10 million but added that the application process should be accessible for disabled applicants.
However, there were a few policies that the organisation thought had overlooked disabled people, including the increase in universal credit for another six months and a one-off payment of £500 to recipients of Tax Credits.
While they approved of these policies, they were disappointed that disability benefits were not also given an uplift. Also missing from the Budget was intentions of more social care investments or developing pro-disability inclusion job schemes.
The organisation would have also liked the Government to have proposed some “financial measures” to support their upcoming “National Disability Strategy” in their Budget, however, this was missing. According to a shared statement from the BDF, the concern is that the strategy will not be impactful without financial investment.
Angela Matthews, Head of Policy at Business Disability Forum, said: “There is much to be welcomed in the chancellor’s Budget, including the extension of the furlough scheme and the universal credit uplift. Alongside this, the announcement of a business rate relief scheme for those working in the hospitality, accommodation and attraction sectors and the new recovery loan scheme will be of interest to many of our members.
“The move to a flexi-job approach to the apprenticeship scheme is sensible but must be coupled with a reworking of the Access to Work scheme to make it more responsive to the needs of disabled jobseekers and employers.
“But we must not downplay the impact that this pandemic has had and continues to have on disabled people. The chancellor’s assertion that “our response [to the pandemic] is working” does not reflect the reality for many disabled people who have not fared well due to the lack of effective health data to determine vaccine prioritisation. Many have also been given information about vaccines and consent that is inaccessible to them.
“We have heard yet another Budget that has not invested in removing barriers for disabled people’s economic participation. Equally, there was no mention of investment in the social care system which supports people to contribute to the UK workforce and to spend in the businesses that are opening up again.
“There was also no mention of how the Government will fund the National Disability Strategy, which is due to publish shortly. Disabled people do not need another well-meaning strategy with no financial investment to make any meaningful changes.
“There are many good things promised in the Budget to support businesses. But what do we want our future society, labour market, and economy to look like? For disabled people and businesses seeking to increase the inclusion of disabled people as talented workers and as valuable consumers, what is missing in the budget may be louder than what is included. Far from the chancellor saying the Government will do “whatever it takes” to recover the economy, we are left questioning whether the provisions are sufficient to deliver the future inclusive (and therefore, resilient) economy that we hope for and need.”