ATW is an outstanding labour market intervention NOT a welfare benefit

By Susan Scott-Parker


Access to Work (ATW) is a world class labour market intervention which removes the disability specific disadvantages that exclude so many unnecessarily from the UK economy. The scheme has liberated the economic and social inclusion of tens of thousands over the years – and, uniquely, it has benefited many non-users, as it enables job seekers and their advocates to immediately counter the all too frequently encountered employer assumption: “But disabled people cost too much!”.

However over the past two years ATW has struggled, as have those who depend on it and their employers. A recent restructuring has caused confusion, anxiety and hardship as individuals suddenly and without notice or explanation – other than “you cost too much”–  face the possibility of losing their jobs and/or careers. The fund designed explicitly to remove employment disadvantage now risks reinforcing or recreating that disadvantage.

In addition, ATW users who face the most disadvantage in the labour market increasingly report that they are subject to, or feel threatened by, seemingly arbitrary ‘cuts’ – ‘arbitrary’ as no policies explaining such cuts to individual support packages are in the public domain, nor is the detailed rationale for such cuts provided to the individual affected.

We need transparency regarding what is a ‘Rule for Administrative Consistency’ and where the advisor must exercise ‘Discretion via Guidance for tailored support packages’. The need for transparency becomes obvious when one considers the distress caused by what so many heard as the ’30 hour rule’ governing personal support workers – only to be told months later that this ‘rule’ was only ‘guidance’ and that this guidance is not in the public domain.

In addition, disabled people using ATW describe advisor behaviour which suggests that these officials are working on the ‘presumption of fraud’, and that they see as their primary purpose not removing work related obstacles, the cost of which differs greatly from person to person, but of cutting the cost per individual.

This is perhaps understandable in a department tasked with uncovering ‘scroungers’ while cutting the welfare bill, but it is clearly counterproductive given ATW is not a welfare benefit. It requires a different approach when setting out to become more cost effective, given every ATW user is in work or training. The sad irony is that in treating ATW users as though they were welfare recipients, DWP actually risks moving people from work onto the very benefit system government requires it to cut.

Obviously those who pose the greatest opportunity for ‘cost savings’ are disabled employees using the higher value support packages and who by definition are more dependent day to day upon the support which makes their employment possible in the first instance. In other words, it is precisely those most vulnerable in the labour market, those most likely to be long term unemployed, who present to the advisor as the most likely source of ‘cost savings’.

DWP needs to bring leadership to the table and to demonstrate quickly and very publicly that they are determined to deliver significant reform and to rebuild trust, determined to become more transparent and efficient – and to turn to its many allies and keen advocates for practical advice and support.

BDF has supported and admired ATW for years – we are confident that the programme can find its feet again and can use this difficult time as an opportunity and an inspiration for administrative and policy reform.

I cannot stress enough the significance of the insight that ATW is not a welfare benefit for excluded dependents on the state. It is government programme which helps to re-shape the labour market, making it more efficient by removing the labour market obstacles which would otherwise prevent so many from competing fairly for work. Clarity of purpose is essential if we are to create an ATW programme fit for the 21st century.

Given it is not a benefit and given it is not a job placement service, would it not be logical to move the programme from DWP to BIS? How might such a move be used to create an even greater impact on the labour market? Could a re-engineered and re-positioned ATW led by labour market experts remove obstacles preventing far greater numbers from contributing to economic growth?

BDF would be more than happy to offer to structure (pro bono!) a consultation which asks key stakeholders: What could be different about ATW? Could we maximise its impact on the labour market if it were positioned, managed and measured by BIS explicitly as a programme designed to make the Labour Market more efficient?

Event: BT Accessibility Practice

BT_mark_4col_pos_CS3BT Accessibility Practice is an upcoming free event on Thursday 18 September that will be of particular interest to those in banking and insurance. Hosted by our Partner BT, the event gives people from these sectors the opportunity to learn how to deliver workplace adjustments systematically across large complex organisations, in ways that promote productivity and employee engagement, while keeping risk and frustration to a minimum.

There will also be discussions on how to reach and engage your disabled customer community. The event speakers will be experts from the BT Accessibility Practice joined by representatives from another BDF Partner, Lloyds Banking Group, who will take participants through the processes they have implemented on their journey to having one of the best workplace adjustment services.

If you are interested in coming to this event please register below and state if you need any adjustments. Light lunch will be provided.

For further information about BT Accessibility Practice or to register please visit:



International Summit on Accessibility announces Susan Scott-Parker Scholarship for disabled undergraduate women in Canada

By George Selvanera

SSP and Carleton Uni

Business Disability Forum (BDF) is delighted to advise that at the International Summit on Accessibility in Ottawa last month, a new Susan Scott-Parker Scholarship was announced for a disabled undergraduate student attending Carleton University.

The scholarship is named in recognition of Susan Scott-Parker, the Canadian founder and Chief Executive Officer of Business Disability Forum and a tireless campaigner for the rights of disabled people in the UK and internationally.

The new Susan Scott-Parker Scholarship will be awarded annually to a disabled undergraduate student at Carleton who has demonstrated financial need and academic achievement, with preference given to female students. This award was initiated by Fran Harding and funded through generous donations from her and other Ottawa club members of the Canadian Foundation of University Women (CFUW).

“Through the generosity of the women of Ottawa, we’re really proud that there will be a woman at Carleton who will get some help studying for a number of years and that person will have a disability,” said Harding. “We don’t care what kind of disability it is. If it gets in the way of you learning, than let’s help you get over that a little bit…It’s really nice to know that there’s a possibility that really good things can come from being thoughtful and hard-working and working together for a good cause.”

Susan Scott-Parker adds it would be brilliant to see British universities and businesses coming together to improve the opportunities for disabled women undergraduates to also achieve. “It’s wonderful that the CFUW are making possible the opportunity for a young disabled woman to move forward with her career and aspirations- to be the best she can be. I very much look forward to seeing similar great collaborations for the benefit of young disabled women here in the UK too’.

The Summit explored how the strategic use of information technologies when combined with global collaboration can improve knowledge-sharing and transfer to improve health and empowerment of those with disabilities.

Disability confident one year on

By George Selvanera

Business Disability Forum (BDF) were more than delighted when Ian Duncan Smith decided in 2013 – inspired by his joining our annual President’s Group dinner for ‘captains of industry’ and disabled opinion leaders – to help us to promote wider recognition of the term ‘disability confidence’- which we created back in 2005 in an effort to make it easier to engage and equip business leaders to improve their corporate disability performance.
Disability confidence enables us to demonstrate the business and ethical rationale for learning how to recruit on the basis of merit; for learning how to adapt so that human beings in all their diversity can contribute to business success; and learning how to deliver excellence at every step of every customers’ experience. Disability confidence is about leaders and managers across the private and public sectors feeling more confident at a personal level as they interact with ever more disabled applicants, disabled colleagues and disabled customers.

And here we are, one year on in the Government’s Disability Confident campaign. At BDF,  we work with many companies and public sector organisations striving to improve their disability performance. We are all too conscious that there is still much more to do, so we encourage everyone to support the Disability Confident campaign and:

  • Understand that disability impacts all parts of the business;
  • Identify, and remove barriers, for groups of people;
  • Be willing and able to make adjustments for individuals; and
  • Not make assumptions based on someone’s disability.

Business disability confidence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

By George Selvanera

With the Government keen to enhance the UK’s export performance of professional and business services from the already net £19bn receipts per year, Business Disability Forum (BDF) has been undertaking some rather extraordinary professional services exporting to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

BDF, a membership body that comprises some of the UK’s biggest and well-known business and public sector organisations collaborating to improve disability performance, has been contracted by the KSA Ministry of Labor to assist with the development of a KSA Disability Confidence Index to support improved disability confidence amongst the Kingdom’s private sector.

This is truly ground-breaking work in applying lessons learned from the more than 20 years of working with UK corporates and public sector organisations.

BDF’s pioneering Disability Standard provides a whole-of-organisation framework for improving disability performance recognising that a corporate approach championed by a senior sponsor is the surest way of embedding good quality accessible recruitment, retention and career development opportunities for disabled people.

However, context is critical. The Saudi starting point is totally different to the UK.

There are no enforced legal protections for disabled people and culturally, disability often remains taboo.

It was to my great sadness that I realised that deaf people would largely be non-verbal too, as they had never been taught to speak and that schooling for deaf children is wholly different and substantially simpler than the curriculum for hearing children.

Many people have told us that non-visible impairments such as mental health, autism and dyslexia are not talked about at work or in the wider society.

Indeed, for some people they find out accidentally, sometimes decades later, that close friends have another child- a disabled child who may even be in their 20s or 30s.

BDF’s work is developing and piloting a bespoke KSA Disability Confidence Index collaborating with seven of the largest corporates in the Kingdom and contributing to the wider development of a business disability confident certification system.

These cover industries including pharmaceutical and medical supplies distribution, edible oil production, steel and air conditioning manufacturing and tractor manufacture.

We have been impressed that there are some examples of good practice that should be nurtured and promoted and we would encourage here in the UK. For example, several companies have:

  • Forged links with disability non-government organisations to support active recruitment of appropriately skilled disabled candidates
  • Established cross-functional teams led by senior executive sponsors to review and improve disability confidence across all areas of the business, and
  • Implemented flexible workplace adjustment processes that are responsive to individual disabled staff needs.

There is obviously a long way to go to mirror where the UK is; and that’s even accepting UK companies have some way to go in achieving best practice for disabled employees, candidates and customers as well.

All in all, an assignment like no other.

That said, the Middle East is a rapidly growing market for business and professional services and the UK is uniquely positioned by language, trade and cultural ties and business practice to support that growth.

Awkward about disability in work as well

By Susan Scott-Parker

On the left is the text

Scope’s Awkward campaign shows how far we still have to go. In particular, it reveals how much depends on bringing human beings together, to start a very different person to person conversation, if we are to see these damaging deep rooted assumptions and stereotypes regarding people with disabilities finally fall by the wayside.

The Scope study, read alongside two other recent publications, should give us all food for thought – all three require us to face up to the fact that for most of society, (including many themselves legally protected as ‘disabled’) the word “disability”, is still heard as almost an insult. It’s a code word for someone who if genuine is inevitably dependent, sad, ‘unfit’, and if not genuine, for example when a government needs to justify throwing one off benefit, is a fraudster, scrounger, and irritant.

We know that at least one in three Europeans will be disabled or close to someone who is – yet 43% of those answering the Scope survey state that they do not know anyone who is ‘disabled’. Not only do they believe the label does not apply to them personally, (logically 10-15% of these respondents will themselves have a disability), but they have apparently never met anyone with diabetes, cancer, alzheimer’s, depression, stammer, dyslexia, hearing loss, RSI, arthritis… It doesn’t add up – unless you spot the fact that people tend to apply the label ‘disabled’ only to those they do not know personally, and then usually only to those who fit the visible stereotypes of wheelchair users, guide dog drivers, BSL interpreter users, etc…

It is clear that for many a stranger can be ‘disabled’ (it will always be stranger ‘faking’ disability to gain unfair advantage) but people we know, people a lot like us, well, they have a health condition, a balance problem, a wonky knee, a rugby injury…are feeling a bit down….

I often ask audiences to stand, if they can, and then read out a list of commonly encountered ‘disabilities’ – saying: “please sit down when I mention a disability which you have yourself or which applies to someone you know”.

In almost every case the entire audience will be sitting down before I finish. At one event, one man was left standing from the one hundred delegates when my list ran out. We decided afterwards he probably had a hearing impairment. My message: “obviously disability is about us …not about them.”, but the message is taking a long time to permeate to the world around us.

We must confront the fact that most people (and I would include many in the House of Commons) still hear the word as to do with an individual’s failure, a personal deficiency and inadequacy, even a lack of moral fibre; disability is rarely defined as society’s failure to treat us all fairly and with respect. The DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) in 1995 was miles ahead of UK popular opinion – we still desperately need the public education campaign which enables everyone to explain why it is that: “to turn me down for a job because I am disabled is fundamentally no different than turning me down because of my race or gender”.

The Scope survey focuses on attitudes and attitudes tend to justify a worldview, which then triggers behaviour. In this instance, we have a worldview that by positioning disabled people as ‘the other’, as ‘not like me’ – takes away their right to dignity and respect. And so these attitudes reinforce and disguise a largely unrecognised, yet often shocking level of ill treatment and abuse, as revealed by the second report to hit my screen recently.

The 2013 research report ‘the ill treatment of employees with disabilities in British workplaces’ published in Work, Employment and Society makes for sobering reading.

The British Workplace Behaviour Survey found significant differences in the experience of poor treatment of employees with a disability or long term health condition, when compared with other employees. For example:

  • More than one in three disabled people have been shouted at or experienced someone losing their temper with them compared with less than one in four non-disabled people.
  • More than one in ten disabled employees have experienced actual physical violence at work compared with less than one in 20 non-disabled people.
  • Close to one in four disabled people have been insulted or had offensive remarks made about them at work compared with less than one in six in non-disabled counterparts.
  • Close to one in six disabled people have experienced hints or signals from others that they should quit their job as compared with just over one in 20 non-disabled people.

People with different disabilities also have different experiences, so as hard as it is for these disabled employees generally, it gets even harder for those with non-visible or hidden impairments. Employees with a learning difficulty or a mental health condition had an increased likelihood of experiencing poor treatment at work by an extraordinary 177%.

Deeply troubling is that nearly half of the more serious examples of poor treatment were from line managers, supervisors or employers. The research found that line managers failed to comply with legislation often because of rigid procedures on sickness absence and discipline. Senior managers implicitly convey the message that compliance with equality legislation doesn’t really matter, by leaving the detail of operationalising how relevant policies actually work to the line manager.

Yet when we move the conversation from: ‘About Them’ to ‘About Us and how our organisations adapt for human beings’ … a different story begins to emerge in report number three.…

Kate Nash recently launched her ground breaking work Secrets & Big News …55 public and private sector organisations, employing hundreds of thousands people, have said that they have much to learn if they are to treat their disabled employees properly and if they are to enable their people to be themselves at work. These employers are breaking new ground and genuinely want to develop a better and more meaningful conversation with their employees. By participating in an anonymous survey conducted by Kate Nash Associates they are creating new conversations and opportunities with their disabled employees. I will come back to this extremely important work in a later blog.

I want to conclude today by saying that these reports provide ample evidence that the status quo is neither acceptable nor unavoidable – however, we will not get different results in five years time unless we start doing things differently – very differently.

At the very least, we need to use this information to challenge the all too many organisations who flatly refuse to admit that they have any need to improve their disability performance. Ironically, it is precisely because so many organisations are out of touch with the people they employ, out of touch with their customers, out of touch with the demographic realities around them – that they continue to behave as though disability has no impact on their business – and can and should be left to doctors, charities and social workers.

A huge well known company employing hundreds of thousands of people, most at minimum wage, recently refused to join BDF because: “we aren’t broken”. Another company explained; “we are too young” to address disability though they only employed 70,000. And another argues ‘we need to focus and our focus is on women this year’.

We are looking for radical ideas for how to close the performance gap between those companies, often our Members, who are determined to deliver best practice and the thousands of ‘not yet- members’ and ‘never will be member’ organisations who remain trapped in the old medical damage time warp. Above all we need to invest in the leadership potential of disabled people – real change will only happen when we enable everyone to understand that disability and disabled people, and potentially disabled people are part of everyone’s world. We are determined to re-launch our leadership programme for disabled social entrepreneurs in the next 12 months – again all proposals for how to maximise the impact of this initiative are greatly welcomed.

“Disability Confidence”

By Susan Scott-Parker

Susan Scott-Parker

We were of course more than delighted when Ian Duncan Smith decided in 2013 – inspired by his joining our annual Business Disability Forum (BDF) President’s Group dinner for ‘captains of industry’ and disabled opinion leaders – to help us to promote wider recognition of the term ‘disability confidence’- which we created back in 2005 in an effort to make it easier to engage and equip business leaders to improve their corporate disability performance.

I can still remember walking round the office chanting: “Disability Confidence”; “Disability Competence” over and over – trying to persuade myself that the phrase was both say-able and usable and that we could define it in such a way as to make it useful… – before we launched our guide to the business case for becoming ‘Disability Confident’ in 2005 .

It was vital that the term be more than a slogan, catchphrase, empty rhetoric – so we launched not just the phrase but our formal definition. We said that a disability confident company would:

  • Understand that disability impacts all parts of the business.
  • Identify, and remove barriers, for groups of people.
  • Be willing and able to make adjustments for individuals.
  • Not make assumptions based on someone’s disability.

In other words – we sought to equip the business community with a visualisation of what they would be doing differently when they started to deliver disability best practice.

It is a source of much delight that Government recognised we were making it easier to open a new conversation with employers – moving from blaming them for their failure to ‘get it’ – to encouraging business in very practical ways to build its capacity to employ and do business with disability people.

Indeed Maria Eagle, then Minister for Disabled People, not only joined us in Madrid at the garden of the UK Ambassador, as Barclays Spain promoted the concept of business disability confidence to the Spanish business community– she joined us at the hotel for the ‘thank heavens that went to plan’ glass (or two) of wine afterwards.

DWP officials presumably saw the impact the concept was having on business in Hong Kong (Community Business launched their guide for employers in Hong Kong and Singapore: “Towards Disability Confidence” in 2011) and in Australia where it has long been integral to the work of the Australian Employers Network on Disability and Workfocus.

We were more than delighted when Ian Duncan Smith announced that he would help us to reach the SME community and in the process enable those funded to help disabled people into work to understand that it is absolutely their job to help employers understand how disability affects them directly, learn how to remove obstacles for groups, make adjustments for individuals and to stop making assumptions about what people can do on the basis of labels. This is more important than ever given the Government’s priority of moving more disabled people off benefits and into employment.

The phrase ‘disability confidence’ must be understood as much more than a campaign slogan– we created it because we needed to open a new conversation with business (and indeed the public sector as service provider and employer) given that all too often the ONLY conversation any employer had on this subject started with the rather scary sentence: “Why don’t you hire more disabled people…?” followed by rather futile efforts to generalise about millions and millions of human beings.

Disability confidence on the other hand (or as we say, the corporate best practice we brand ‘disability confidence’) enables us to demonstrate the business and ethical rationale for learning how to recruit on the basis of merit; for learning how to adapt so that human beings in all their diversity can contribute to business success; and learning how to deliver excellence at every step of every customers’ experience.

Disability confidence is about leaders and managers across the private and public sectors feeling more confident at a personal level as they interact with ever more disabled applicants, disabled colleagues and disabled customers.

I look forward to closer working with the DWP to explore how, in collaboration, we maximise the impact of the Government’s Disability Confident campaign by communicating what this corporate best practice looks like – and encouraging as many organisations as possible to measure and improve their performance by using our Disability Standard – recognising that securing and sustaining best practice in disability performance requires changes across the whole organisation.