Jane Hatton runs Evenbreak, an award-winning not-for-profit job board run by and for disabled people. It helps inclusive employers who understand the benefits of employing disabled people to access that talent pool. In this guest post, Jane explains some of her concerns about the government’s plans for “Improving Lives” with its latest consultation on disabled people and employment
As a disabled woman running an inclusive not-for-profit job board for disabled candidates, I welcome any initiative which reduces disabling barriers in the workplace. The new green paper, “Improving Lives”, should therefore warm the cockles of my heart.
However, I have some grave doubts about some of its suggestions.
Reducing the disability employment gap
The government’s laudable aim is to halve the gap between the number of non-disabled people who are employed (80 per cent) and the number of disabled people who are employed (48 per cent).
However, if we continue with current approaches, reducing the gap from 32 per cent to 16 per cent will take nearly 50 years. Drastic action is required.
The government are right that they need to take action to reduce the disability employment gap. I’m not keen on putting a figure on it, because I believe disabled people should have exactly the same opportunity to be given a job they are capable of doing as a non-disabled person, not just a less-worse chance. There is plenty they could do.
The green paper talks nauseatingly often about the evidence that shows “appropriate work is good for our health”. As a general principle, whilst remembering that a significant number of people are unable to work or for whom working would be damaging to their health, I can mostly go along with this.
However, the crucial word here is “appropriate”. For many people, their working conditions have contributed to their impairments (e.g. nurses, paramedics and labourers with back injuries, or people working in stressful conditions with mental health issues). My concern is that “appropriate work” will be misinterpreted as “any work being good for everyone”.
The challenge that our candidates face is finding employment which is appropriate for them, with employers who are prepared to be flexible in both their recruitment processes and working patterns.
What changes should the government make?
Any measures to help disabled people into work should only apply to those who are really able to work (as opposed to many of those that Work Capability Assessments have deemed fit for work who clearly aren’t).
Some of our candidates struggle to find the bus fare to attend interviews. Social security needs to reflect the fact that people who are worrying about bedroom tax, benefit caps, sanctions, social care, food banks and homelessness are not in a good position to be looking for jobs.
People who rely on Motability to travel around should be assured of that facility. Someone who is unable to use public transport is unlikely to be able to look for or travel to and from work without a suitable alternative.
Leading by example
The government itself is a huge employer. It should be leading the way in inclusive employment and removing barriers in the workplace. However, in my experience, it is the private sector who are much more willing to, for example, use our specialist disability job board. Very few public sector organisations have used Evenbreak.
The answer to this complex issue is relatively straightforward. If the public sector – all government departments, all NHS trusts and local authorities – were to remove disabling barriers in their organisations and encourage all their supply chains to do the same, there would be a rapid change in workplace culture.
Investing in support
Support to help disabled people into work is already happening successfully in many DPULOs (disabled people’s user-led organisations) up and down the country. Resources could be distributed to increase this valuable provision more widely.
Including disabled people
Most of the problems occur through non-disabled people making and implementing decisions based on what they think disabled people want and need. Nothing much will change until disabled people are included in identifying the barriers and in making decisions about removing them. Until then, “Improving Lives” is unlikely to apply to disabled people.
Would you like to respond to the Government’s plans?
Anyone can give feedback to the Improving Lives Green Paper.
The paper is available in a range of accessible formats, and people can respond online or by post by Friday 17 February.
If you’d like to let the government know what you think about being disabled and finding work read our blog on how to respond to the consultation.