Government has ‘one shot’ at tackling disability employment barriers

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Employers including the Post Office, Schroders, Virgin Media and Clifford Chance have urged the Prime Minister to do more to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

In an open letter to Boris Johnson, the Centre for Social Justice’s Disability Commission says it welcomes his commitment to publishing the “most ambitious disability plan in a generation” – due this year – and says tackling barriers to employment is crucial.

According to the Office for National Statistics, just 52% of disabled people are in employment, compared with 81% of non-disabled people.

The letter, signed by more than a dozen employers as well as MPs and campaigners, says equality at work is key to progress and that disabled people have waited long enough for the government to act.

“Unless we harness the talent of people with lived experience of disability and ensure they are driving and leading the conversation, from shop floor to senior management, the conversation will never change, and the barriers will remain,” it says.

The commission will soon publish a report which will argue that disabled people will continue to face social exclusion, financial hardship and reduced wellbeing until the disability employment gap is addressed.

It will make five recommendations to reduce the gap, including:

  • Increasing supported routes into employment
  • Introducing mandatory employment and pay gap reporting
  • Leveraging government procurement
  • Reforming the government’s Disability Confident scheme
  • Reforming the Access to Work scheme

Disability Commission chair Lord Shinkwin said: “The Prime Minister’s strategy represents a once in a generation chance to chart a new way forward where disabled people’s potential to contribute, compete and, in some cases, excel and reach the top of their professions, on merit, can at last be realised. We have one shot at this – that’s why it’s so important his strategy gets it right.

“What makes this even more exciting is that big business is ready to get behind him.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson, former Paralympian and member of the Commission, said: “Despite the very welcome improvements in legislation since the Disability Discrimination Act, the experience of the last 25 years shows that laws on their own aren’t enough. The political will to enforce them is crucial. Right now, disabled people feel that we’re going backwards.”

The Business Disability Forum has published toolkit for employers which is aimed to help them bring employees with disabilities back into the workplace safely.

Many disabled employees have been shielding, but this advice will be withdrawn on 1 April.

Business Disability Forum’s head of legal, Bela Gor, said:  “We hope our resources will help HR teams, Diversity and Inclusion practitioners and employees to make informed decisions on the pressing issue of how to make future working safe for everyone.”

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