Why small businesses should forget the myth that hiring disabled people is ‘too hard’

This Saturday 6 December is Small Business Saturday in the UK. The aim of the day is to encourage consumers to support small businesses in their communities, and highlight the success of those that are getting things right for their customers.

Operating a small business can be tough – running on tight margins, competing with large businesses and dealing with high staff turnover are just a few of the many concerns on the minds of small business owners.

Image of a small business owner smiling on showroom floor

Recruiting for roles in a small business can be particularly hard when juggling these multiple priorities with day-to-day operations; it’s often tempting to settle for the person recommended by a friend or your neighbour’s relative who’s looking for work, just to temporarily fill the void.

If your business takes a similar approach to recruitment, you could be missing an opportunity to tap into the huge market of disabled talent here in the UK. There are 5.2 disabled people of working age in the UK, 53.7% of whom are not currently employed[i]. That’s a sizeable talent pool of 2.8 million people that might have the ideal attitude, skills and experience for your role.

In the past, the financial implications of making a hiring decision has prompted many small business operators to hesitate offering jobs to disabled people, regardless of whether or not they were the best person for the job[ii]. With 42% of disabled people looking for work naming employer attitudes as a barrier to successfully gaining employment[iii], initiatives such as the Department of Work and Pension’s (DWP) ‘Disability Confident’ campaign are looking to change assumptions about hiring disabled people.

Launched by the Prime Minister in July 2013, Disability Confident aims to dispel the myths about the complexities of employing disabled people, and increase awareness of the support available to employers of disabled people.

Part of this campaign involves bringing employers, including small business owners, together to discuss the support on offer from government and organisations like Business Disability Forum to improve employment outcomes for disabled people.

Image of an employee in a wheelchair holding a pot of flowers in a garden centre

The most significant support for small business employers comes in the form of ‘Access to Work’ (AtW): a labour-market intervention that provides grants to employers which can be used to pay for practical support for staff that have a disability, health or mental health condition. The types of support covered by AtW grants include the purchase of special equipment, a support worker to help disabled staff members in the workplace, and fares to work for staff who cannot use public transport.

Businesses with up to 50 employees do not have to contribute towards the cost of Access to Work grants, making it a viable and attractive option for small businesses thinking of employing a disabled person.

Recent changes to AtW have made the scheme even more appealing to small business; the ‘standard list’ of items AtW would not fund, which included vital equipment such as software and chairs, was withdrawn in 2013.

Once your business has made the decision to hire a disabled person, you may find that guidance and support is still needed to enable that person to be successful in their role, whether it be in the form of disability training for other staff or guidance for the new employee’s line manager.

Business Disability Forum offers a wide range of publications, tools and training to employers of disabled people. Our line manager guides can provide staff in your small business with practical advice on the best way to work with, manage and support disabled staff members.

In early 2015, we will also be launching a new suite of e-learning products suitable for small and medium sized businesses. E-learning is an ideal solution for SMEs, as it can be more cost and time effective than sending staff to face-to-face training. It’s a resource that can be used to train new staff, as refresher training for existing staff, or even to train your suppliers.

To enquire about our products and services for small business, contact us via email to enquiries@businessdisabilityforum.co.uk or call 020 7089 2452.

[i] Department of Work and Pensions, ‘Disability facts and figures’, 16 January 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/disability-facts-and-figures/disability-facts-and-figures#employment

[ii] BBC News, ‘Moves to help more disabled people into the workplace’, 18 July 2013: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23355252

[iii] Department of Work and Pensions, ‘National drive to boost disability employment: first ever Disability Confident roadshow tours Britain’, 21 November 2013: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/national-drive-to-boost-disability-employment-first-ever-disability-confident-roadshow-tours-britain

“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.