Minister urges firms to tap disabled talent pool

Disabled staff can prove more reliable than other employees because they
take less time off sick and remain in their jobs for longer, according to the
Minister for Disabled People.

Maria Eagle, talking exclusively to Personnel Today, said people with disabilities
are an under-used resource in the UK labour market and stressed it is in
employers’ interests to make the most of their skills.

She said the Disability Rights Commission estimates that of the 8.5 million
disabled people in the UK, 400,000 could find work with a little help from more
progressive organisations.

"Employers are missing a trick because they are falling foul of old
attitudes instead of taking a new look at what their businesses need, who can
provide it and who is out there. They need to be more broadminded. We often
hear that companies are looking for skilled employees and complaining about
[staff] turnover.

"Disabled people are less likely to take time off sick and more likely
to stay in a job longer than non-disabled people."

Research shows that a third of organisations believe disabled staff will
have high sickness absence rates and be expensive to employ because of the cost
of altering buildings or providing specialist equipment, said Eagle.

"Employers must think more widely than jumping to conclusions that seem
obvious – but are often inaccurate," she added.

Eagle told employers to look closely at their HR policies and practices to
see if they can be adapted to incorporate disabled staff in the organisation.
She cited flexible working arrangements as an example.

"It is a lot easier than employers think to make adjustments for staff
with a disability. Often the adjustments are cheap or cost nothing –
flexibility in hours, for example, so an employee with a disability is not trying
to get to work in the middle of the rush hour," said Eagle.

She demanded employers take the lead in changing employee attitudes to
disabled staff. She said: "Internal disability awareness training for
staff is an obvious and valuable tool. Strong signs from above about how people
should be treated is a good start."

Eagle confirmed that the Government is committed to including staff with HIV
and cancer – including those in remission – under new disability legislation

She also said the Government will extend disability legislation to ensure
equal treatment in the workplace to all of the public sector, including police
and the fire service, but not the armed forces.

"I do not think it is right for us to lecture the private sector if
legislation does not cover the public sector. We shall extend the reach of the
current legislation to cover most of the public sector, armed forces apart,
within the lifetime of this parliament," she said.

By Paul Nelson

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