A spotlight on disability employment

You won’t hear this on the news, but a couple of events taking place this month show how important disability employment is at the moment.

Disabled people still face a broad range of barriers to work – however a renewed focus on disability employment across government, the charity sector and employers, could give us reason to be hopeful.

The employment gap

Employment is an important aspect of living independently for many disabled people. While more people are working in the UK than ever before, just 46.7 per cent of disabled people are in work. This puts the disability employment gap at 34 per cent. It has hovered around this level for the last ten years.

Scope’s analysis shows that nine in 10 disabled people have worked, but only half are in work now.
Employer attitudes, inaccessible workplaces and a lack of accessible transport remain significant barriers. Other barriers include lack of effective support to enable people to enter or get back into work, and employers and disabled people not knowing about schemes such as Access to Work which pay for additional adjustments some disabled people need in the workplace, such as screen readers or taxis.

Time for change

Clearly, there is a real need for a new approach. Recent announcements from Government could indicate steps are being taken in the right direction. Scope has been campaigning for parties to commit to halving the disability employment gap. Last year, the new government took on this goal, which will mean supporting 1 million disabled people in to work.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has just launched an inquiry in to the disability employment gap. This marks an opportunity to review support available, explore alternative options for support and hold the Government to account on their commitment to bring about real change. We will submit evidence to this inquiry, ensuring the Committee’s recommendations to Government are informed by the real experiences of disabled people.

This morning, I’m meeting the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to hear about their proposals for employment support for disabled people.

Later this year, the Government will also publish a White Paper on disability, health and employment.

We are calling for:

  • Employment support that is specialist, and tailored to individual needs
  • Investment in schemes like Access to Work
  • Employers to offer flexible, modern workplaces

Harrison’s story:

Tell us about your experiences

Are you a disabled person looking for work?

Or, if you are working:

  • Have you asked your employer for a workplace adjustment?
  • Have you used the Access to Work scheme?

We would love to hear from you. Please contact stories@scope.org.uk

“Autism doesn’t stop me from enjoying life” – National Siblings Day

It’s National Siblings Day on Sunday so we chatted to Joe, who has autism, and his sisters Charlie and Lauren. In this blog they talk about growing up together, their achievements and how their lives have been shaped by autism.


I live in Much Hadham with my parents and my sister Lauren. My hobbies are computers and reading. I also like hiking and indoor climbing. At the moment I’m working for East Herts District Council as a BSU Officer for Environmental Health. It’s basically filing, scanning, taking messages. I like that I get on with everybody, it boosts my confidence and I like keeping busy. People don’t treat me differently. My colleagues just treat me like anyone else, as a friend.

Autism doesn’t stop me from enjoying life

I found out about my autism diagnosis from my doctor and my mum when we arranged for me to have a personal tutor at college. Until then I just thought that’s how being a teenager was. But it doesn’t stop me from enjoying life at all.

Autism might affect me at first when it comes to social situations but I’ve found that it helps me too. I’ll admit, when I started taking phone calls at work it was daunting but I thought I should overcome that problem just by practicing using the phone. Holding back from situations like this wouldn’t do me any good.

My family

My family have supported me and made me feel positive about my life. Like most families we have our ups and downs but most of the time we get on great. We go on trips to the cinema or somewhere to eat, to the theatre or just shopping. Mind you, when it comes to clothes shopping, I do like my sisters but I find the way they shop a bit boring. But I suppose other guys who have sisters are the same.

Joe’s advice for other people

I’m settled at the moment and grateful for everything that has happened to me so far. Where I’m working is the best employment as far as I know. I love living here and I’m not planning to move anywhere else, not for a long time anyway.

From my experience, my advice is to be positive about autism; don’t think of it as a negative thing. If I feel positive about autism and I’m not letting it affect my life too much, other people can do the same too.

Lauren and Joe young
Joe and his sister Lauren when they were young

Lauren and Charlie

Joe is just Joe

Charlie: Joe can be a very sweet, thoughtful, nice guy. He loves computer games and pop music, and he has quite a silly sense of humour.

Lauren: One of the things I like is that he gets my sense of humour. I’m quite sarcastic and they say you’re never meant to be sarcastic to someone with autism because they will take you literally, but he gets me.

Charlie: He once told someone to ‘eat his shorts’ when she told him off, because we used to all watch The Simpsons together when we were little. That always tickles me.

Lauren: Everybody loves him, from his colleagues to his tutors at college. I remember at his student of the year event, people turning round to us and saying ‘Oh you’re Joe’s family! You’re so lucky; he’s such a lovely boy.’

Charlie: He’s painfully honest though. He’d say things like ‘no offense Charlie but shouldn’t you have moved out by now?’

Lauren: One my favourite stories was when he went for his DLA assessment. He’s never really been a drinker, but we’ll have a glass of champagne at New Year’s. At his DLA interview they asked him ‘What do you drink?’ and he said ‘Coke, but occasionally champagne.’ And obviously DLA is a benefit so we had to back track and be like ‘very very very very rarely!’

The flip side

Lauren: You can get jealous of the amount of attention that is paid to them and when they’re allowed to do certain things. When you’re younger you don’t understand why, it’s just “why is he allowed to do that if I’m not?” but as you get older you realise it’s ‘anything for an easy life’ – they’re just simple things that will make him happy.

Charlie: We sometimes felt protective, like any sister would. If anyone said anything about Joe I wanted to rip their head off. Kids can be horrible but they don’t mean anything by it. They just see someone doing something that’s not ‘the norm’ and they comment on it. Lauren has always been better at dealing with it than I have.

Understanding autism

Lauren: When I found out that he had autism I think I was about 7. I remember mum explaining it to me and being like ‘oh yeah, of course’. It just all made sense. I used to spend a lot of time researching autism. I didn’t really know how to talk about it, I didn’t want to talk about it and there wasn’t like a school guidance counsellor or anything. So I just used to read about it a lot.

At school I found out there was a boy who had an autistic sister and I remember being excited to talk to him. But then he told me that she has really high support needs and I was a bit taken aback, because that’s not something I could relate to.

Charlie: I’m the only person I know who’s got an autistic brother, other than Lauren obviously. Some people act like they know about autism in a very patronising way. They don’t mean to be.

Lauren: It’s that innocent ignorance that Scope talks about in End the Awkward.

Lauren and Joe older
Joe and his sister Lauren last year

Sharing success

Charlie: When Joe was in college he won ‘Student of the Year’ two years running. I was head girl at my sixth form and so was Lauren. I love that we’ve all shared the same sort of accolades. That was really nice.

Lauren: I credit a lot of who I am to Joe. I think I’m a nice person and I have empathy for people. For my dissertation at university I did a political research report for an MP. Joe was looking for jobs and I was getting incredibly frustrated because he had all these skills, he was diligent and hard-working – so why wasn’t he getting a job? That’s what I chose to look into. It’s always shaped what I’ve done, including my job today.

Scope storytellers in the news

Our press team find opportunities to share our storytellers’ experiences more widely, so we can reach even more people. In case you missed them, we’ve rounded up the stories that were featured in the news throughout March.

My Son’s Smile Belies a Troubled Heart – Huffington Post

For Rare Disease Day, Carole Villiers shared the story of her son Dexter’s diagnosis and how it changed her family’s life. You might not think it, but up to 30 million people may be affected by one of over 6000 rare diseases. Carole was supported by our Face 2 Face service in Brighton.

George Osborne faces Commons defeat over plans to cut £4.4bn from disability benefits – The Independent

The Chancellor is under pressure to compromise over the plans to reduce Personal Independence Payments. Scope supporter Hugh Thomson-Slater, 63, from Surrey has cerebral palsy and spoke out about the effect that these changes could have on disabled people. He says: “My equipment is very important to me. Without my wheelchair I’d lose my independence.”

Personal Independence Payment – Victoria Derbyshire, BBC 2

Scope storyteller Susan Donnelly was on the Victoria Derbyshire show discussing proposed changes to Personal Independence Payments, and the impact that extra costs have on her life.

Alisha Williams will now be able to take her GCSEs thanks to a piece of technology – Wales Online

Eighteen-year-old Alisha Williams, has cerebral palsy and thought she would never be able to sit a GCSE exam but now thanks to a piece of helpful technology, she will be sitting not one but two. She attends Craig y Parc School, Scope’s school for disabled children and young people based in Cardiff.

Speechless: A New Play That Gives Disabled People a Fresh Voice – Huffington Post

Kate Caryer, founder of the Unspoken Project, writes: I am a rude, pink-haired theatre lover, who also happens to have cerebral palsy and no speech. I use a communication aid to speak (think a punk Stephen Hawking), but the words that come out of my computer will quickly shatter any stereotypes you might have about disabled people.” Kate has written Speechless, a play directed by Paul C. Mooney, which uses dark humour and disabled villains to get across a serious point: you don’t need speech to have a voice.

Keep up to date with our latest stories on our blog.

A ‘Wheely Good’ day for a flash mob

Kris is the founder of Wheely Good Fitness, which offers exercise classes for both disabled and non-disabled people in Herefordshire. On April 3, he and a group of eager volunteers took over Hereford city centre to put on a flashmob as part of Kris’ fundraising efforts for the London Marathon. In this blog he talks about his relationship with Scope and what he hopes the flashmob will achieve.

My relationship with Scope came about because some of the people I do classes with are involved with them. However, bizarrely, if I go back to when I was eight, my best friend Stephen had high level cerebral palsy. He was actually supported by Scope back when it was called The Spastics Society. It’s funny that going back all that way there was a link with Scope.

It’s blossomed from there really.

The thing is with Scope, it’s so proactive. Its approach to disability and taboos is fantastic. With campaigns like End The Awkward, it really grabs the issues and says ‘we need to address this’.

The flashmob

The idea for doing the flashmob as part of my London Marathon fundraising came about two months ago. I saw one used as part of a fundraiser which was great.

Everyone who was taking part in the flashmob had donated a minimum of £10. We raised around £428 just from those people who took part. So not only were these people stepping outside of their comfort zone and embarrassing themselves, they actually paid for the pleasure of doing it!

We had a nice mix of people taking part. Some supported by Scope, some were simply Scope supporters and we also had people who take the fitness classes. We had nine wheelchair users which was great.

A group of female wheelchair users in Scope tshirts smile as they perform in a flashmob. Other performers in bright coloured clothes dance behind them.

I’ve seen wheelchair users taking part in other flashmobs and they always tend to use exactly the same moves. I wanted to do something different. Obviously I had to adapt certain parts that wheelchair users can’t do but I was keen to get everyone involved. We actually did the wheelchair routine first and then adapted it for the non-disabled participants which was quite a nice twist.

There’s a lot of things I’m hoping from the flashmob. I want people to see people of many different ages taking part. We have people from 8 years old all the way through to 82. I want people to realise that age doesn’t matter, you can take part in anything.

I’m also hoping it will show a very positive view of disability, especially wheelchair users. We can actually do a lot of things – we don’t just sit there! I’m really hoping it will change peoples’ views of disability.

Fundraising tips

Think outside the box. One thing I’ve discovered with fundraising is that if you go along the normal routes, people are a little more complacent with it becauseKris poses in his wheelchair and smiles next to a female volunteer holding a Scope flag they’ve seen it all before. But if you do something new and fresh, it captures their imagination!

One thing I did do was a five hour non stop push on a wheelchair treadmill. Those five hours raised over £1,000!

I think people do react to you doing something yourself. It’s always best to show that you’re making an effort instead of just standing there. The other thing is, like we’re doing today, take yourself to the crowd rather than trying to get the crowd to come to you.

If you’ve been inspired by Kris and his fundraising efforts, visit our website to see what fundraising events you can get involved with this year or read our tips on how to get the most out of your fundraising.

“I’m auty, not naughty!” – World Autism Awareness Day

Sarah’s daughter Florence has autism and sensory processing disorder. This World Autism Awareness Day, Sarah talks to us about what the day means to her and her hopes and fears for the future.

We went out for lunch a couple of days ago and the food was taking ages to come out. I was noticing the signs; Florence was getting quite tense and I noticed this woman just kept staring at us. There’s so much judgment. It would be so nice for there not to be that judgment which is why World Autism Awareness Day is so important.

She sees things in a completely different way

Autism is an invisible disability. Flo just looks like a pretty six-and-a half-year-old girl. Making people aware of what is going on in her head is really important. She sees things in a completely different way.

We need to make people aware It's a summery day and Florence smiles at the camerathat people with autism are not abnormal. Just because you see someone having a meltdown or not coping in the middle of the street, it may not be that they are being naughty. It could be that it’s too bright, there’s too much noise or the person by them doesn’t smell very nice! They are just trying to cope with and process this.

It’s vital that we get the general public to realise that people with autism can do anything they want as long as the environment is right for them. Why change the person? We need to understand that we need to change the environment to make sure that they have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Florence and autism

Florence has a great understFlorence smiles while ice skatinganding of autism. She often says “mummy, I’m auty, not naughty!”

Her understanding is that she’s unique. Florence goes ice skating with a disability group. One of the boys came in and he started having a meltdown because his shoes didn’t fit properly. He was screaming and shouting. Florence just turned round to me and said “mummy, he must be autistic too. He’s having a meltdown because his shoes are really itchy hurty.” Then she said “but he’ll be alright in a minute when he’s come out of it.” She totally recognises other people with autism and really feels an affinity with them.

Hopes and fears

My deep rooted fear is that Flo won’t have correct social perspective. That makes her vulnerable. She has no filter and she will say things how she sees them. However, sometimes, that’s exactly what we need to do in life. My hopes are that this will make her stand out for the crowd. I think autistic people will change the world because they can. They have no fear.

Florence said “Mummy, when I grow up, I’m going to be a special teacher that will look after disabled children because they need my help.” She has got a very nurturing, caring nature.

If I could go back and speak to myself at the time of Florence’s diagnosis I would say ‘it’s just a diagnosis. It may seem heartbreaking but a diagnosis doesn’t matter does it?  It’s ok.’ Whether she’s got autism or not, she’s still Florence. And do you know what? She’s turning into the most quirky, individual, intelligent, adorable little person.

Sarah and Florence smile at the camera on a sunny day.

Find out more about autism on our Support and information pages. For free, independent and impartial emotional support or disability advice, contact Scope’s helpline on 0808 800 3333 or helpline@scope.org.uk