Prime Minister promises a disability-inclusive COVID-19 strategy

As the threat of a wider disability employment gap looms, a cross-party group has called on the Prime Minister to take action.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Disability has called for a disability-inclusive COVID-19 response that improves the working lives of disabled people.

It is feared that disabled workers will be among the hardest hit as a result of the coming recession, with the gap between the number of disabled and non-disabled workers in employment already rising.

Now the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has responded to an open letter calling for a disability-inclusive response to COVID-19 from the APPG for Disability, signed by more than 100 MPs and Peers, stating that he is determined to introduce an “ambitious and transformative” National Strategy for Disabled People.

He also said emergency measures adopted in response to COVID-19, such as the relaxation of statutory care requirements, would be kept under review and terminated “as soon as possible”.

Dr Lisa Cameron MP, Chair of the APPG for Disability, said: “I am delighted to see the Prime Minister’s positive comments, especially as we feared the National Strategy for Disabled People would drop off the Government’s agenda amidst the pressures resulting from COVID-19.

“Progressive policies, such as extending mandatory pay reporting for gender to cover disability, have the potential to improve the working lives of disabled people significantly. The APPG for Disability will push hard for the inclusion of such policies within the National Strategy for Disabled People, thereby ensuring the Prime Minister honours his promise.”

The Government has a manifesto commitment to publish a National Strategy for Disabled People. This has been delayed to due COVID-19, but is expected to published in early 2021.

It has promised a clear cross-government vision on disability, identifying what matters most to disabled people, and ensuring that practical policy changes allow them to participate fully in society.

Other measures advocated by the APPG for Disability include:

  • Using central government procurement to improve disabled people’s employment opportunities by setting minimum standards for contractors.
  • Supporting trade unions in helping to improve disabled people’s working lives.
  • Significantly revamping existing schemes, such as Disability Confident and Access to Work.

In response to the group’s open letter, the Prime Minister said: “Our resolve to ensuring that disabled people can play a full role in society is steadfast and unchanged, with a manifesto commitment to publish a National Strategy for Disabled people.

“The Strategy’s significance is even greater as we rebuild the UK’s economy and society after COVID-19, and I am determined that now, more than ever, it must be the most ambitious and transformative endeavour for disabled people in a generation.”

Lord Shinkwin, Vice Chair of the APPG and Chair of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) Disability Commission, said: “Given the financial legacy of COVID-19, we simply cannot afford to carry on as we are. We need a transformation that unleashes the potential of disabled and non-disabled people alike.

“That means looking at how Government and business can make the market work for everyone, so disabled households are treated as customers worth almost a quarter of a trillion pounds. I hope very much that the Prime Minister will respond positively to the Disability Commission’s recommendations later in the year”.

The APPG drew up its proposals in collaboration with disability@work, a group of senior academics specialising in disability employment.

Disability@work’s research recently showed that disabled people were 16 per cent more likely than other workers to experience a pay cut or pay freeze during the last recession. They were also 28 per cent more likely to have restricted access to paid overtime.

With the global economy facing the worst recession for a century it is feared that disabled workers will be among the hardest hit again.

Professor Kim Hoque, from Warwick Business School and disability@work, said: “Pre-existing disadvantage has been shown to render disabled people more sensitive to economic downturns. Employers also tend to marginalise equality priorities during recessions given the need to focus on short term economic performance, and also the abundance of job applicants, which reduces the ‘cost’ of discrimination”

“The introduction of an ambitious National Strategy for Disabled People would go a long way in helping protect disabled people in the current recession.”

Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum CEO, stated: “In the aftermath of COVID-19, it is encouraging that the PM’s comments suggest there is a once in a lifetime opportunity to think big and develop a National Strategy for Disabled People that shifts the dial on disabled people’s employment chances, and ensures all employers play their part in enabling disabled people to obtain and retain high quality employment ”

Tiernan Brady, Clifford Chance Global Director of Inclusion, commented: “Delivering inclusion for people with disabilities needs to be central to our reaction to recent events, and a National Disability Strategy is essential to making that happen.

“Inclusion must not be a luxury item that gets put in a drawer until times are easy. The events around COVID and the killing of George Floyd, and the subsequent global reaction, have illuminated the critical importance of inclusion to our society and in our workplaces.”
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