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Will Gov’s Health and Disability Green Paper deliver for disabled workers?

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy - Business Disability Forum

Business Disability Forum has responded to a series of recent announcements made by the Government on disability, health and employment.

Health and Disability Green Paper

Responding to the publication of the Government’s green paper on health and disability titled “Shaping the Future” (20 June), Angela Matthews, Head of Policy at Business Disability Forum, said:

“Business Disability Forum welcomes the publication of the Health and Disability Green Paper. The green paper recognises the important role that welfare plays in not only supporting people who are looking for work but also in helping people to remain in and progress once in employment. Joining up welfare and employment is vital in closing the disability employment gap, by recognising that disabled people do work and making it financially possible for disabled people to do so.

“Too often, disabled people have been presented with an unrealistic ‘either or’ option by the welfare system, which assumes that people are either out of work and claiming benefits or in work and able to cover all their costs through their earnings. In reality, many disabled people in employment need to rely on welfare in some way. This may be because their condition only makes it possible for them to work part-time, or because they need to meet the additional costs incurred through having a disability.

“We welcome the green paper’s acknowledgement of the need to address additional costs and the financial discrimination experienced by disabled people through the very nature of having a disability. It is unacceptable that disabled people have to spend more to live equal lives.

“We support plans to review the Disability Confident scheme and its effectiveness in advancing disability inclusion within organisations. At present, the responsibility for becoming Disability Confident often falls on a few individual roles within an organisation. We need the scheme to require a whole organisational approach to disability inclusion. Guidance also needs to be issued to make the validation process less onerous for non-profit organisations with limited internal capacity. Business Disability Forum is carrying out its own review of Disability Confident, which we will be sharing with the Government.

“We will be consulting with our Member organisations in coming months to ensure that all proposals announced in the green paper, reflect the realities experienced by disabled employees and those with long term health conditions, and to continue to challenge and change the narrative around disability employment. We urge the Government to do the same and to ensure that disabled people are properly consulted with throughout the progression of this green paper.”

Health is Everyone’s Business

The Government has also published its response to the consultation on the ‘Health is Everyone’s Business: proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss’ (20 July). Responding to this, Angela Matthews said:

“We welcome the commitment to transform Access to Work. It is long overdue. We would, however, like to see employers given a greater role in the process. Many employers want to be involved in arranging adjustments for employees – and it makes sense – yet, in the reality, the employee remains the sole point of contact for Access to Work. This places a huge burden on the employee and creates additional and unnecessary barriers around workplace adjustments, by leaving the employer outside of the process.

“The introduction of Access To Work passports is a step in the right direction but the complexities around moving adjustments between roles must be taken into consideration. The reasonableness of adjustments must be considered, alongside the needs of the employee – in terms of their disability or health condition – at the time of moving roles. Adjustments must be regularly reviewed, otherwise they become ineffective. There are also real benefits to involving new line managers in these conversations, so they are able to best support the employee in their new role.

“The commitment to improving access to Access to Work for SMEs is welcome. But the proposals need to go further and recognise the financial situation of SMEs. Ninety-nine per cent of UK employers are SMEs and most run on very limited budgets. The current Access to Work rules often require smaller organisations to contribute the first £500 towards the cost of adjustments. We know through our Smarter London SME service that this is unrealistic for many organisations.

“We were disappointed to see that, although there was recognition of some of the issues around Statutory Sick Pay, the Government have chosen not to make changes at this stage. Recent data shows that NHS waiting times are at their longest ever, and many employees’ sick pay expires before they are diagnosed or treated in the NHS. As the response says, employees working for employers who have provided private health protection options are better placed to ‘recover’ from illness or injury or manage an ongoing condition. This is of little use to organisations which are unable to offer private provision, including SMEs.”

“Business Disability Forum also believes that statutory sick pay should be more flexible, so that employers can use it alongside a phased return to work. At the moment, a full-time employee who comes back to work two days a week, initially, is hugely financially disadvantaged. We are concerned that this is forcing employees to return to full-time work before they are well enough to do so, which can lead to longer periods of ill health, and people falling out of work completely.

“We want to thank our Members which helped us respond to the ‘Health is Everyone’s Business’ consultation. We look forward to continuing to work with our Members on this issue. Business Disability Forum is launching a Work and Health Reference Group, which will look at practical measures employers can take to respond to respond to this announcement.”

The national strategy for autistic children, young people and adults: 2021 to 2026

The Government has also published an autism strategy for 2021 to 2026 (21 June). Commenting on the strategy, Angela Matthews said:

“The strategy’s aims to improve public awareness around autism is to be welcomed. Many people with autism experience unacceptable abuse due to the public’s limited understanding of autism and how the condition affects people.

“We also welcome the specific measures around better inclusion when accessing public sector services, transport and businesses. We know the important role that inclusive communication plays in people with autism being able to use health care services, especially.

“On transitioning between education and employment, we would like to see greater choice available for young people with autism and the acknowledgement that apprenticeships need to be made more inclusive.

“On the use of language within the strategy, we would argue that the use of the term ‘acceptance’ in the strategy is unambitious. We should be looking to create a society and deliver services in which people with autism can thrive and reach their full potential.”

Next steps

Commenting on next steps, Angela Matthews said:

“We have seen a raft of policy papers issued by the Government over the last few days with a focus on disability. We look forward to seeing to how these come together in the Government’s anticipated National Disability Strategy.”

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