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More needs to be done to address disability employment

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy - Business Disability Forum

Responding to the publication of the Government’s National Disability Strategy (28 July), Business Disability Forum’s Head of Policy, Angela Matthews, said: “We welcome the launch of the long-awaited National Disability Strategy. In his foreword to the strategy, the Prime Minister has committed to put disability inclusion at the heart of Government. Many of the measures announced by individual Government departments bring us a step closer to making that a reality. We particularly welcome the commitment to further consider flexible working, disability workforce reporting, and the development of an Access to Work “Passport”, and their impact on disability employment. But more needs to be done to turn this from a one-year plan into a strategy that truly transforms the life chances of disabled people.

“When Government departments work in isolation, different areas of disabled people’s lives – such as transport, employment, health care, homes, social care, education, leisure, social life – risk being seen as separate and unrelated. This disjointed approach is at odds with disabled people’s life experience. Many disabled people need accessible transport to get to work and to take advantage of the investment in accessible tourism that the Strategy mentions, for example. A National Disability Strategy needs to take a whole-life approach to disabled people’s lives.

“To have long term impact, the strategy must also be accompanied by financial investment. Much of the funding announced today is not new. The Prime Minister has made it clear that this is a “down payment” only. We will await the Autumn Spending Review when we must see more on long-term, additional funding for the strategy.

“The strategy has put disability higher on the political agenda but it is what happens next that is important. Disabled people have raised concerns about the consultation process, which need to be addressed going forwards. For our part, Business Disability Forum will continue to work with the Government and our members to push the strategy forwards and to ensure it delivers lasting change in the lives of disabled people.”

Responding to the individual commitments within the strategy, Business Disability Forum welcomed Government proposals to:

  • Consult on flexible working and disability workforce monitoring. Many disabled people say the current flexible working is not flexible enough to help manage a changing or fluctuating disability or provide caring support to someone. In addition, our current research with employers on disability workforce monitoring shows there are many nuances and logistical considerations that businesses need to have the opportunity to feed back to Government before any potential mandatory requirement to report workforce data progresses and to ensure that any monitoring is not just fit for purpose but best in class.
  • Review the effectiveness of the Disability Confident scheme. Many of our members use the scheme, but some elements of it cause them problems, such as the ‘offering an interview’ scheme. We also welcome plans to create an information portal to support employers to progress through the different levels.
  • Support the development of assistive technology. While there are good proposals to enable the UK to become a world leader in assistive and accessible technology, the strategy has not sought to address the gap in provision of assistive technology to disabled people of all ages and whatever their life situation. We look forward to sharing our proposals and current research with the Government about a ‘Tech for Life’ provision of assistive technologies.
  • Address the barriers disabled people experience in accessing and remaining in employment. The strategy promises to “transform” Access to Work but the actions suggested do not go far enough to achieve this. Specifically, they do not remove the cap which disproportionately affects people who need more expensive – but life transforming – support.
  • Establish an Extra Costs Taskforce to review the additional living costs incurred by disabled people. There are many areas of disabled people’s lives which require them to spend more money to lead equal lives. Examples include paying for taxis instead of navigating inaccessible transport, or buying more suitable adaptations and equipment than provided by the NHS. We hear disabled employees are increasingly asked to part-fund their adjustments because either Access to Work or the health setting cannot provide what is needed for disabled people to do their job.

In delivering and building on the National Disability Strategy, there are calls for the Government to:

  • Give greater recognition to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the lives of disabled people and the vital role that disability inclusion plays in post-COVID recovery. This includes ensuring everyone has access to the public information they need in a way that is accessible to them
  • Recognise the vital role that social care and health care play in delivering equality of opportunity for all disabled people, including those of working age. To ensure that both are properly funded.
  • Ensure that Disability Confident requires a whole organisational approach to disability inclusion. Business Disability Forum is carrying out its own review of the scheme and we will share the results with Government.
  • Extend the proposed transformation of Access to Work, to allow disabled people to access the scheme at an earlier stage in the job seeking process. To remove the support cap, which disproportionately impacts people with more expensive support needs, such as people who need British Sign Language (BSL) signers and people with learning disabilities.
  • Ensure that disabled people have access to assistive technology throughout their lives through a ‘Tech for Life’ fund.
  • Commit to meeting the extra costs that disabled people incur simply by having a disability, informed by findings of the Extra Costs Taskforce.

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