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Can the employment gap ever be closed for disabled people?

Diane Lightfoot

Frustratingly, the Chancellor missed opportunity to put people with disabilities at the centre of employment plans, says Business Disability Forum. Business Disability Forum outlined its views today on the Chancellor’s budget statement, urging more action on closing the disability employment gap. Article by Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum.

Whilst we welcome the announcement today that 600,000 more people will be in work by 2022, we are disappointed that no announcement was made on how the Government plans to ensure that disabled people are included in that number, despite their previous commitment to cut the disability employment gap by 2020.

Similarly, the Chancellor made mention of ‘an inclusive economy where everyone has the opportunity shine’, yet missed the opportunity to offer greater assurances to the business community about the value and importance of investing in a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Universal Credit
The announcement may have dealt with the immediate issues facing the Universal Credit system, but it offers little to the half a million disabled people who will see their income go down under the new scheme. This will include both those looking for work and those in work, who rely on benefits to top up pay and to cover the additional living costs that they incur as a result of their disability. Cutting this support could mean that for some disabled people having a job is no longer viable, with huge detrimental impact on both the individuals and the employers that benefit from their skills and talents.

Access to Work
There is also little assurance in this budget for our members who are seeking to support disabled colleagues in the workplace. At the weekend, the Chancellor stated that there are ‘no unemployed people’ and whilst he swiftly went on to clarify his remarks, the fact remains that only 47 percent of disabled people are in employment.

The Access to Work scheme, which provides workplace support to disabled people, has been proven not only to be effective in enabling people to work but to be cost effective too, with studies suggesting income to the treasury of £1.48 for every £1 spent. Therefore, we are very concerned that, rather than promoting and investing in such an effective programme, the Government is capping the amount that individuals can receive through the scheme.

So far, this has only affected new claimants, but from April 2018, it will be rolled out to existing claimants, and will disproportionately affect those with higher support needs, including Deaf employees, who rely on the scheme to cover the cost of interpreters, and people with learning disabilities – a group which remains woefully underrepresented in the workforce – who may need in work support from a job coach.

Many people are concerned about how they will continue to carry out their jobs beyond April. The Government must address this issue and ensure that Access to Work does not discriminate against particular groups.”

Closing the employment gap
This continues to be a period of financial uncertainty for business, with cuts to forecasted growth as well as the ongoing debate around the terms of the Brexit deal. At times like this it is vital that the Government’s stated commitment to create 1 million new jobs for disabled people by 2020 is not lost. If the disability employment gap is to be closed, once and for all, we all need to work together to invest in diversity and inclusion. We sincerely hope that this remains a key priority for this Government, despite the omission in the Chancellor’s speech Budget address.

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