Rethinking disability at work

Colleagues having serious discussion

By Diane Lightfoot

Business Disability Forum today welcomes the publication of the new report “Rethinking disability at work” published by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). We were pleased to contribute to this report to help inform the debate around closing the disability employment gap, a stated ambition of this government.

We welcome the recognition that engaging employers is fundamental to achieving this. Many of our members and partners are truly leading the way when it comes to recruitment and retention of disabled employees.

However, there is much more to be done. Almost two thirds of employers surveyed for this report perceive barriers to employing someone with a disability. One of the largest of those perceived barriers concerns work place adjustments. Yet, we know from our experience that most adjustments are tiny (for example, being flexible in someone’s working hours to make travelling easier, providing a piece of equipment or communicating in an alternative format). Furthermore, Access to Work can meet the costs of adjustments that would be unreasonable for an employer to pay and far more needs to be done if this remarkably effective benefit is to move from being the government’s “best kept secret” – known of by only 25% of employers – to become a significant enabler towards work.

A shot of a wheelchair from a low angle with a train in the background.There is more too that needs to be done if Access to Work is able to deliver effectively for employers and employees. The application system is onerous and likely to represent a significant barrier, particularly for people with learning disabilities or mental health needs who remain woefully-underrepresented in the labour market. There is a further built-in barrier in that a job seeker must wait until they have secured an offer of employment before they can apply for Access to Work funding. We strongly recommend that flexibility is introduced to the system so that applicants can both present potential employers with an agreement in principle for Access to Work, and have the ability to “passport” support between jobs and organisations, thus supporting career progression – a major obstacle for many disabled people.

Getting it right for disabled people needs to be a “whole organisation” approach that runs through everything that business does, and so we welcome the report’s recognition of the important role that procurement has to play. The 2012 Social Value Act provides a means for authorities to include disability inclusion criteria in purchasing goods and services, yet only 33 per cent of local councils routinely consider social value when they procure contracts. So, we welcome the recommendations to increase opportunities for disabled people in all local and national best practice guidelines for public procurement and would urge for transparency in reporting how this translates into practice.

The right job can transform lives. And so it is vital that the findings in this report are translated into practical action to make work a reality for many more disabled people.

Business Disability Forum’s annual conference “Disability Smart Suppliers and Partners” takes place on Tuesday 11 April at the Royal College of Nursing in London. To sign up or find out more visit our events pages. 

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