The Conservative Party gathered in Manchester this week for their first conference since winning a surprise majority in May’s General Election. We’re making sure they deliver on their promise to halve the disability employment gap.
In his conference speech, the Prime Minister put social reform at the heart of the Conservative’s agenda for this Parliament. This included a focus on getting people into work, and a reference to equal opportunities for disabled people.
This narrative was also very much reflected in the conference fringe, all of which provided fertile ground for Scope to put forward it’s priority to enable more disabled people to find, stay and progress in work.
Scope was delighted to see the Conservatives commit to halving the disability employment gap, as a result of our pre-election influencing work. As well as holding meetings with a number of newly elected MPs to brief them on disability employment, and our other priorities on the extra costs of disability and social care, we held a fringe meeting with the influential think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, on how the employment gap could halved. As with our Labour conference fringe event on extra costs, the discussion was held in front of a reassuringly packed audience.
Scope’s Chief Executive, Mark Atkinson, set out the scale of the challenge in reducing the 30% gap between the employment rate of disabled people and the wider population, which has remained static for over a decade. He called on Disability Minister, Justin Tomlinson, to tie in disability employment to the Government’s wider economic reform and devolution agendas, and to take responsibility for championing disability employment across Whitehall.
In response, the Minister said that the Prime Minister’s commitment to halve the gap has opened doors for him to drive this agenda across Government. The Government’s Disability Confident campaign was aimed at employers to challenge myths about disabled employees and spread best practice on employing them. Tomlinson said he was now particularly focused on supporting small companies which account for 45% of jobs, and are struggling to recruit staff.
The Minister also said there were not enough interview opportunities at the end of the process for disabled people. In order to address this Tomlinson, and other MPs such as Chloe Smith who was in the audience, were holding local Disability Confident jobs fairs with employers.
The meeting also heard from Emma Satyamurti, an Employment Lawyer who featured in Scope’s ‘100 days, 100 stories’ campaign before the election. Emma said disability employment was one of her favourite areas of practice because there is nothing better than brokering practical solutions that work for everybody, and never hearing from them again!
She said that one of the biggest barriers to increasing the disability employment rate was clients not asking for reasonable adjustments because of a lack of awareness or because of non-disclosure of disability. Emma said that the research found that nearly 50% of disabled job applicants do not feel comfortable disclosing their disability, and that this showed that stigma is still a big problem. She said this was a political and social challenge so that people get the rights and support they are entitled to. Drawing on her personal experience, Emma said that small, one-off workplace adjustments could often make a big difference.
What next to halve the employment gap?
Emma concluded her presentation by welcoming the Government’s commitment to halve the gap, and saying she looked forward to seeing how it unfolds. Scope is very focused on shaping this process going forward.
Our recommendations on how to halve the disability employment gap are central to our submission to government ahead of its spending decisions for the next five years, which will be announced at the end of November (the Government has committed to spending £100 million on improved employment support by 2021), and our proposals to amend the Welfare Reform and Work Bill currently making its way through Parliament.
Scope has put forward amendments on reporting on progress to halve the disability employment gap in the context of full employment, reverse the Government’s proposed cuts to Employment and Support Allowance for the Work Related Activity Group and include a commitment to specialist disability employment support in the Bill.