Tag Archives: employment

Disability doesn’t have to be a barrier to starting your own business

Just four days until our event in London for disabled people who are thinking about setting up their own business, as well as entrepreneurs who have already taken the plunge. Book your free space today! Paul Carter who is speaking at the event explains why disability doesn’t have to be a barrier to starting your own business.

Paul CarterI founded my own media production company Little Man Media two years ago and haven’t looked back.

Leaving full-time employment was one of the best things I ever did, and now I want to show to other people – not just those with disabilities – that being your own boss needn’t be a pipedream, and is something that can change your life for the better.

Flexibility is far and away the biggest benefit of being your own boss. As a disabled person, the ability to be in control of your own time and your own commitments is really, really helpful and can often make the difference between a bad day and a good one.

One of the things I’m often asked is whether or not I’ve encountered any discrimination, prejudice or negative attitudes due to the fact that I’m disabled. For the most part the answer is no. Although there was one memorable occasion when applying for Access to Work funding (the government scheme that helps cover some disability-related costs in employment) when the assessor asked me how I could possibly operate a camera without hands, and that I should consider giving up and trying something “more suited to my condition.”

Such instances aside, I’ve not found that having a disability has been any form of hindrance or barrier, certainly not at least in terms of attracting new business, if anything it has helped open doors. A lot of my work has centred around equality issues and social justice, and being able to bring some lived experience or show that I have an understanding of or connection to my subject is something that people often find appealing.

There are considerable physical and societal barriers to getting disabled people into work so becoming your own boss might be the best option. But it’s not right for everyone and we certainly need more and better awareness among employers that disabled people aren’t going to cost loads of money or have a negative impact on the business – I think there’s still a long way to go there to change attitudes.

An often unaddressed issue is that disabled people’s conditions sometimes fluctuate, and a greater willingness to embrace flexible working would open so many more doors for disabled people, particularly those with mental health problems.

Nobody should be under the impression that running your own business is easy, it isn’t! You never truly switch off from the stresses and strains, and can’t leave work behind at 5pm when you shut down your computer and leave the office. I often find myself thinking about work last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Some people may find that thought unbearable or think it unhealthy, but if you truly love what you do and are passionate about your business, then it becomes an extension of yourself, and you’ll do whatever it takes to make it a success.

Having self-belief and being certain that you’re doing the right thing is absolutely critical, because there will undoubtedly be points where it looks and feels like everything is going against you, and you need to be able to pick yourself up and keep on going. But you need a bit of single-mindedness and the courage of your convictions, because running your own business is the best thing in the world. When you love what you do, it isn’t work. I get to spend my time meeting incredible people, telling amazing stories. Making films has allowed me to meet people who’ve spent time in foreign prisons, Paralympians, politicians, pop stars, and everyone in between. I’ve the best job in the world, and I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

Paul is speaking at a free event for disabled entrepreneurs and disabled people who are thinking of starting their own business in London on 13 February, organised by Natwest, Scope and Livability. 

“It’s like baby steps, one step after another” – Michael’s story

Landing your first “proper” job is tough for many young people in the UK. For 19-year-old Michael, having a learning disability has made that challenge all the harder. After a disrupted education, the East Londoner left school without his GCSEs and with his confidence badly dented. But everything started to change for Michael when Scope’s First Impressions, First Experiences programme set him up with a work placement at London Overground. 

Michael's face, smiling
Scope’s First Impressions, First Experiences programme gave Michael the confidence to begin his dream career.

When I was in school my confidence was knocked. I was diagnosed with my condition in year eight. I was diagnosed because I had problems with my attendance. My mum thought I might have a bit of a learning disability because she works with kids herself. The day I was diagnosed with autism I felt a whole lot of relief.

I thought that without many skills and GCSEs it wasn’t going to be worth applying for things like apprenticeships. I thought I had no chance. Before I came to Scope I thought to myself I wasn’t going to get anywhere. But from day one at the course things started to look better.

When I first started the course, I was down in general and didn’t have much self-confidence. I couldn’t see how I’d get to where I wanted to be. I’ve always had a passion for transport, and working on buses was my dream job.

Getting my first work experience 

First thing in 2013 I got the news that London Overground wanted me – brilliant. When I started with London Overground at the end of January, things picked up a lot more.

The Scope course dramatically improved my confidence and filled that gap that was holding me back. It gave me the chance to do work experience with London Overground, where I helped and assisted passengers with tickets and travel enquiries at Surrey Quays station. This work experience helped me to think “I can do this” and gave me a more positive outlook on life.

Now, I’m working part time at Stagecoach as a Customer Assistant on the number 15 bus route from Tower Hill to Trafalgar Square. I check tickets, offer travel advice to customers, supervise the platform and assist passengers with getting on and off the bus safely. I really love my job and I’m hoping that it will help me to achieve my dream of becoming a bus driver. Without First Impressions, First Experiences, I don’t think I’d be here.

A new outlook on life

I’ve always got a smile on my face and I’m cheery with customers. When they see that, they are more likely to have a chance of being a bit happier. Even a “good morning” or a “hello” makes someone feel a bit cheered up.

It’s like baby steps, one step after another. One step at a time is always the best policy and disabled people should be entitled to work no matter if it’s in an office or what.

When it comes down to it, go for it, no matter what way you take, you are going to get where you want to be.

Find out more about the First Impressions, First Experiences work training.

Honorary degree for Scope’s Chair

Alice MaynardScope’s Chair, Alice Maynard, has been recognised for her significant contribution to society by the University of York. The University, where Alice also did an undergraduate degree, has given her an honorary degree.

Alice has been chair of Scope since 2009. She is also founder of Future Inclusion Ltd, which works to encourage good governance, inclusive practice and ethical business.

Alice was previously Head of Disability Strategy at Network Rail, and in 2001 was seconded to Transport for London where she developed its first social inclusion plan.

Here is an extract from an interview with York Vision, in which Alice describes what the honorary degree means to her…

Firstly, congratulations! What does honorary degree from the University of York mean to you? 

Thank you. It’s amazing. It’s a bit like getting to the top of Everest (not that I ever have) without actually having to make the effort to get there. It was great getting the doctorate that I’d worked for, but I’d worked for it, whereas this is a real gift and an honour.

You have BA in Language from the University of York. How did your time at York help you become what you are today? 

I had a great time at York. I learned a huge amount – not just about language and linguistics. It was a time when I really became a grown-up. I began to understand what I was capable of in the big wide world. I was effectively a fairly small fish in a big pond rather than being the big fish in the small pond that I had been in the girls only special school I went to as a teenager. But I did end up using my language and linguistics. When I left York I was working in the IT industry, and my second job involved localising a US product for the European market. I found my linguistics really useful for that. It made me a valuable team member, and enabled me to demonstrate what I was really capable of and really shine. It was in that job, and the subsequent job with another US company, that I really established myself in business and laid the foundations that helped me get my MBA, set up companies, and even chair Scope.

What are the biggest challenges for disabled graduates entering the labour market in 2014? 

There are enormous challenges for any graduates entering the labour market in 2014. When I graduated, it wasn’t all sweetness and light – I had a choice between two jobs and, fortunately, the one I chose was secure. Had I chosen the other, I would have lost it straight away. They rescinded their offers to all graduates because of the economic conditions at the time and several of my student friends were affected. But I guess today part of the issue is there are just more graduates now than there were in 1980. So if you’re disabled, the competition is even more fierce, and although the attitudes of many employers have improved over the years, disabled employees can still be seen as a potential burden on the firm rather than a really valuable potential employee. Disabled graduates need to demonstrate even more strongly, therefore, what their ‘unique selling point’ is and find a company that will appreciate them. But they still need to look for somewhere they can work that they can really passionate about, though, because if you enjoy your work you’re most likely to shine – and doing something you hate is pretty miserable anyway!

What do you hope to achieve as chair of Scope?

At the very least, I’d like to think I’ll leave the organisation in a better place than I found it and give the next chair a solid foundation to build on. But really I want to make sure that when I step down in October this year I leave an organisation that is fit for the future and better able to achieve its vision of a world where disabled people have the same opportunity to achieve their life ambitions as everyone else does. To do that, I have to make sure that the Board is fit for purpose: that the right people with the right skills, who are passionate and knowledgeable about the issues, are round the table, and that they work effectively as a team. Then they can both support and challenge the Chief Executive and his senior team as they implement our strategy so Scope can drive the change in society that will move us all ever closer to that vision.

A tale of two systems: the Government’s health and disability employment strategy

Today the Government has published proposals showing how it intends to improve the way it supports disabled people to find, stay in and progress work.

Work is a huge issue for disabled people. Only one in two disabled people currently have a job. Disabled young people are twice as likely to be not in education, employment or training (NEET). And if the same proportion of disabled people were in work as the wider population, there would be 2 million more people in the workforce.

But how well does the new strategy address the challenges disabled people face? Will it create the personalised support disabled people need?

What are the challenges for disabled people?

Many disabled people want to work – but find the labour market a daunting place. Many report that employers see them as too ‘risky’, often making assumptions about what they can and can’t do.

During recruitment, disabled people feel like having an impairment can automatically ‘discount’ them from jobs even when they are qualified to apply.

Disabled people looking for work also rely on having a wide range of other support services in place which can be very difficult and bureaucratic to co-ordinate, typically including housing, social care, welfare advice and other support such as childcare.

So it’s vital that there is joined-up, specialist support available for disabled people. But as Scope’s recent report found, disabled people too often report that the support they receive to find and progress in work is just not up to scratch.

The Work Capability Assessment – which tests whether or not someone is fit for work – still hasn’t been sorted out. 90,000 disabled people have had their benefits suspended for things like missing interviews at Jobcentre Plus. And only 1 in 20 disabled people have been supported to get a job through the Work Programme.

So it’s really welcome that the Government are trying to find ways to improve the system. But the challenge is that today’s proposals risk creating a tale of two systems – of high quality support for the few, and a one size fits all approach for everyone else.

High quality support for the few

The good news is that the Government recognises the need to make improvements, and have put forward a number of new proposals.

Some are really welcome. They propose creating a new ‘gateway’ to support, so that disabled people can get the right support at the right time. This is something Scope has called for before and that has been endorsed by the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

There’s also a focus on who delivers employment support, with more emphasis on specialist and smaller providers like Disabled People’s Organisations. This is good news, as many – such as the Essex Coalition of Disabled People – are doing excellent work and can offer a unique perspective on employment issues.

There’s also a welcome focus on the need for better evidence about the kind of support disabled people feel is useful, and how it can be best be delivered.

One size fits all for everyone else

The problem is that even if these proposals are enough to create a genuinely personalised specialist support offer, the chances are that too few disabled people will benefit.

The details of exactly who’s in or out of the specialist system are yet to be worked out, but the strategy is clear that the majority of disabled people will only receive employment support through the mainstream offer – primarily the Work Programme.

This is worrying. Despite some improvements it’s pretty widely accepted that the Work Programme is still a long way from being effective for most disabled people. We know that only 3.16% of the combined ESA groups found work, and a number of commentaries show that too often disabled people are being left without the right kind of support.

Although the strategy does contain some proposals for mainstream support such as introducing ‘ESA Champions’ in Jobcentres, it’s hard to see these delivering the step-change in personalised support the mainstream offer needs.

The strategy also makes clear that there is only very limited money available, which is ultimately what’s placing the limits on access to specialist support.

The Chancellor announced in the Budget that £350 million is available for disability employment and the Department is clearly still grappling with how to spend this money. But the indicators are that it is likely to be through greater rationing of specialist support and placing as many people as possible into the generic programmes.

So although today’s strategy is welcome, there’s a real danger that we end up having a tale of two systems: effective, holistic support for a small number of disabled people with high support needs; and patchy, heavily-conditional mainstream support for the rest.

As the Government starts to think about how they will deliver the proposals, it’s vital that they work to ensure that as many disabled people as possible receive personalised, specialist support.

How can we better support disabled people’s career journeys?

Guest post from Rob Trotter, Public Policy Advisor (Employment and Skills) at Scope.

The current labour market is a challenging place for disabled people. Over half of all disabled adults are unemployed. Most want to work but can face extraordinary barriers to finding and retaining a job.

Employment support – to help disabled adults find, prepare for and progress in work – is a vital part of removing these barriers. This can be anything from financial support like Access to Work, to help to find vacancies and prepare for interviews.

It’s welcome that the Government has announced in the 2013 Spending Round that £350 million will be available for employment support programmes. This investment could prove a vital lifeline for disabled people at every stage of their careers, from the first steps in looking for a job, to the support needed to progress.

But the challenge is that current employment support programmes aren’t yet effectively supporting disabled people. For instance, only 2.9% of Employment Support Allowance claimants – nine in 10 of whom are disabled people – have found a job through the flagship Work Programme. Too often, programmes focus only on job ‘outcomes’ rather than the needs of the person.

So today, five leading disability charities have published a major report setting out new ways to improve employment support for disabled people.

The report – Work in Progress: Rethinking employment support for disabled people – calls for a personalised, multi-agency approach which focuses on empowering disabled people to lead their own career journeys.

The report recommends that:

  •  There needs to be greater involvement of employers in the design and delivery of employment support
  • The Government should incentivise greater localisation of employment support for disabled people in order to stimulate innovation
  •  A more targeted approach should be taken for young disabled people who face particular challenges and often cannot access effective support

It also outlines how the quality of support can be improved, and calls for much greater empowerment and involvement of disabled people in their own journeys through work.

Volunteering in Scope’s employment service

Thomas Read is a volunteer with Scope’s Employment Service. He also works as a freelance broadcast journalist.

Employment Service volunteer Thomas Read speaking at youth employment conference

Having recently left university, volunteering seemed like an ideal way to build up my employability with a view to securing a paid job in future.

Having a form of cerebral palsy, I was already familiar with Scope’s work. So when I saw a voluntary research role advertised on the charity’s website, I knew I wanted to apply.

I was invited to interview and the rest, as they say, is history.

My research

I currently spend one day a week at Scope’s London headquarters researching graduate schemes available to young disabled people, and finding out how inclusive they are. It has become clear that this is no small task!

I hope to hear from businesses in a range of sectors and from disabled graduates on their experiences – what was good and bad about the graduate schemes, and how they could be improved.

I have found the project really interesting, and it has given me an invaluable opportunity to develop my research skills.

It has also let me pursue other opportunities that would not have come my way – including taking part in a panel on behalf of Scope at a youth employment conference.

Expect the unexpected

Whilst preparing for the conference I was reminded to expect the unexpected when a fire alarm interrupted a conference call the week before the panel.

The untimely drill and evacuation of the building meant that I didn’t get to hear much of the half-hour conversation!

The conference

The panel discussed a range of issues. By the end I think we were able to make the audience aware of some of the major problems facing young people today, and suggest some solutions.

Overall, I have found my time volunteering with Scope rewarding. I hope to carry on doing so.