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Promoting disabled people’s employment at Conservative Party Conference

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.

Find out about Scope’s event at the Labour Party Conference discussing how we can address the extra costs of disability 

Delivering the Conservative commitment to halve the disability employment gap

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.

Find out more how Scope aim to improve the employment of disabled people.