Emma Satyamurti, an employment lawyer who specialises in discrimination reports from Scope and the Centre For Social Justice’s panel at The Conservative Party conference.
Last week I attended the Conservative Party Conference, to participate in a fringe event co-hosted by Scope and the Centre for Social Justice. I had never been to a Party conference before, so it was in a spirit of curiosity that I boarded the train for Manchester.
The event was to discuss the government’s welcome pledge to halve the substantial employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people. I was keen to hear what Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP, would have to say about his plans to achieve this.
The scene was comprehensively set by interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Scope, Mark Atkinson, drawing together the wide range of issues that impact on disabled people’s access to employment and ability to flourish in work, and Scope’s work to address these.
Reasonable adjustments are key
I was able to contribute some observations drawing on my experience both as a disabled person, and as an employment lawyer specialising in discrimination. I was particularly keen to raise the issue of reasonable adjustments and how employers approach this important area, as I feel that this is often the key to unblocking the obstacles disabled people face. I wanted to share my impression that employers generally want to do the right thing, but often lack confidence in exploring and dealing with the needs of their disabled employees.
The good news is that the adjustments disabled people need are often cheap, convenient, and will often benefit others too. I was able to share examples from my legal practise to illustrate this, and from my own experience. As Scope has also highlighted, flexibility is probably the most commonly needed adjustment, and this usually costs little or nothing.
The reasonable adjustments framework is a powerful engine for positive change, not just for disabled employees and job applicants, but for employers too. For individuals, it is an important tool for ensuring a working life free from avoidable disadvantage and from the blight of reduced career opportunities.
For employers, it provides a structured space for having a meaningful dialogue with their disabled employees to ensure that all the talents, commitment, and potential that disabled people bring to work are fully tapped. Everyone wins when this happens. This isn’t about employers kindly giving their disabled employees special treatment. It’s about doing what good employers do anyway – for all their employees; listen to them, nurture their talents, and above all trust them.
“We all have different talents and different needs”
I suggested that an (optional) formal process might help people to request adjustments to make their working life easier, and to begin to break down one of the deepest barriers of all; thinking of disabled people as somehow inherently different from everyone else. We’re not. We all have different talents and different needs; in that sense we really are all in it together.
It was great to hear from the Minister what he is doing, and plans to do, to promote disabled people’s employment. His acknowledgment that this must be meaningful, properly paid work was particularly welcome.
All in all it was a constructive and wide-ranging discussion, with excellent contributions from the packed audience too. I left feeling that it had been a great opportunity to talk about some really important issues and that everyone had made the most of it. Now for the important part – seeing how the words will be translated into action, and action into progress.