How to reduce the disability employment gap?

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Disability employment gap stubbornly wide

Rates of employment in Britain are at a high, with 80 percent of nondisabled people in work. The situation is very different for those with disabilities, where the figure is under 48 percent.

According to a new report by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), there are a million disabled people who would like to find employment, but are not able to do so.

Halving this gap in employment rates was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment – but so far, despite bruising cuts to disability benefits, very little has been achieved.

Out-of-work benefits for disabled people cost £19 billion a year, while the Exchequer loses between £21 and £29 billion a year in potential tax and national insurance revenue, due to health-related joblessness.

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A poll of HR professionals highlights some challenges that need to be overcome

• 63 percent believe there are barriers to employing someone with a disability

• 34 percent are concerned with their ability to do the job

• 31 percent fear the cost of making reasonable adjustments to the workplace

• fewer than one in 10 believe there is a strong business case for hiring a disabled person

• only a quarter of employers know about Access to Work, which helps with the additional costs of employing someone with a disability

• the Fit for Work programme, which provides free work-related health advice, was used by only some 9000 people in 18 months, yet 300,000 people a year leave employment because of ill-health

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Chief Executive of the CSJ, Andy Cook, commented:

“The disability employment gap is a social justice issue. Despite having one of the most robust and flexible labour markets in the world, millions of disabled people in the UK are not able to enjoy the financial, health and emotional gains associated with employment.

“By letting this happen, we are undermining our economy and we are shredding the social fabric of our society.

“It is time to change this. Employers have everything to gain from increasing the number of disabled people in their workforce. The reality is that employers who do not hire disabled people miss out on talented, committed employees.

“This report provides ways of meeting the challenges that disabled people face in the labour market, offering a clear blueprint for a more inclusive, productive and robust labour force – one in which everybody, no matter what challenges they face, can achieve their full potential.”

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Government not doing enough to make businesses aware of support available

The CSJ report finds that the Government has failed to make businesses aware of the advice and services it offers to help employ disabled people.

It recommends that Fit for Work should be rebranded. The report states: “At its heart, it is a national occupational health service – free at the point of delivery. It should be named to reflect just that.”

The think tank is also calling for the Government to introduce a duty for employers who do not have private occupational health services to have an early conversation with Fit for Work where employees have been absent for three weeks, to help prevent absences becoming long-term.

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Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive of Employment Related Services Association, who contributed to the report, commented:

“Today’s report is a timely and important reminder that we must do more to help disabled people to enter the labour market. It is a moral outrage that millions of disabled people who can and want to work are currently unable to do so. It also makes no business sense.

“Bold action is required if the government is serious about halving the disability employment gap. In this light, the report sets out practical but significant steps to meet this challenge, including harnessing the apprenticeship levy funding and investing in specialist employment support.

“To reach its target, the government must invest in supporting disabled people; not only because the Chancellor will reap the financial benefits, but also for the health and emotional gains for each individual. Ultimately, it is simply the right thing to do.”

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, was also on the report’s working group:

“Business Disability Forum welcomes this report and in particular, the recognition that engaging employers is fundamental to closing the disability employment gap. Many of our members and partners are truly leading the way when it comes to recruitment and retention of disabled employees.

However, almost two thirds of employers surveyed for this report perceive barriers to employing someone with a disability with one of the largest concerns being around work place adjustments. Yet, not only are most adjustments tiny, but Access to Work can meet the costs of those that would be unreasonable for an employer to pay.

“Far more needs to be done if this remarkably effective benefit is to move from being the government’s ‘best kept secret’ to become a significant enabler towards work.”

People with learning disabilities face the most challenges in finding work

Tim Cooper, Chief Executive of United Response, disability charity and supported employment specialist on the report’s working group commented:

“We welcome the publication of this report today. For the last two decades statistics around disability employment have hardly changed and remain shockingly low. People with learning disabilities are the most marginalised of all disability groups when it comes to employment, with only 5.8 per cent currently in paid employment. Although 65 per cent of people with learning disability want to work this group’s employment rate continues to fall at a time when all other rise.

“Through our own work we know that access to specialist employment support opens the job market to people with learning disabilities. We are pleased to see recommendations in the report today supporting this point by calling for specific specialist employment support contracts to be made available for people with learning disabilities.”

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Further resources

You can read more about Access to Work, here

You can download the full report as a PDF from the Centre for Social Justice website (it will open in a new browser window)

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