Backing businesses to halve the disability employment gap

26 July 2016

Reform today launches the final paper in the Working Welfare series on how to halve the disability employment gap. The last paper addressed the design of the benefit system – itself a huge barrier to work for many people claiming out-of-work disability benefits – and provided a blueprint for reform. The report today completes this journey by proposing practical steps to improve employment support services so that more disabled people are supported into work. Employers are a crucial part of this: to ensure that that people with a disability or health condition are given every opportunity to move into, and stay in, work. Strengthening their role is crucial if the Government is to achieve its ambitious vision.

Ensuring that suitable jobs are available when claimants complete an employment programme, and that employers are willing to recruit disabled workers is essential. Despite a strong business case, many employers remain unsure about the risks and costs associated with recruiting disabled workers. The report proposes ways to lower these barriers through stepping-stone jobs, apprenticeships, and reform of Access to Work. For small and medium-sized businesses, who hold significant potential in addressing the disability employment gap, these reforms are particularly important. To ensure that employers and disabled employees are able to access specialist support, the Government should invest in the establishment of peer networks. Finally, giving the Disability Confident Campaign teeth would put businesses at the forefront of best practice to create more inclusive and accessible workplaces.

The success of the Stonewall Index gives some insight into the scale of change that Disability Confident could achieve. Over the last 12 years, Stonewall has used a Workplace Equality Index to scrutinise practices around lesbian, gay and bi inclusion in an organisation. Over 400 employers entered the 2016 Index, competing to secure a place in the Stonewall Top 100 Employers. Top performers are used to develop best practice guidance that is shared with other organisations. An anonymous employee survey and public ranking as used by Stonewall, could equally be applied to disability inclusion at relatively low cost. Together with greater formal expectations of employers who wish to become Disability Confident, a Disability Inclusion Index could help to take this agenda from one-off Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives in some larger companies to everyday practice across business.

The Government is committed to reaching three million new apprenticeship starts by 2020. Aligning this with the objective of halving the disability employment gap is common sense – ‘stepping stone’ roles should play a central role in the Government’s approach to supporting disabled people into work. The report argues that the funding model for apprentices should take disability into account – to cover the risk of higher training costs. Allocating a portion of the apprenticeship levy to disabled apprentices would also help to deliver a step change in outcomes.

Over the last decade, initiatives to engage employers have been largely limited to awareness campaigns. The persistent disability employment gap indicates that this has not been effective in improving the employment prospects of disabled people. This report proposes a much more ambitious approach. The Government should formalise the expectations of Disability Confident employers, incentivise businesses to recruit disabled employees, and equip them with the skills to feel confident to do so.

Hannah Titley, co-author, Stepping up, breaking barriers: transforming employment outcomes for disabled people



Jim Bignal

11 August, 2016

I make no claim to be an expert on increasing employment of the disabled and people with health issues. It is clearly a very complicated issue. The Reform suggestion to establish Skunkworks seems a great idea. New ideas are clearly needed. As an outsider learning about these issues it seems that what is lacking is DEMAND from businesses to take on people with disabilities. The fact that only 20% of companies signed up for the Disability Confident are actively engaged in the project rather proves this point. With business playing such a vital role in our society, it is my contention that companies and more importantly, ALL the people in the business, from the CEO to the apprentices have a responsibility in all their decision making and actions at work to help make the world a better place. This responsibility towards society, the environment and to making an ethical profit should not be an option. It should be part of the culture and ethos of the business. This ethos is called Triple Purpose Capitalism and provides a genuine purpose for all employees, not just to make a profit but to make a positive difference to the world throughout their working day. See One of the requirements of a Triple Purpose Company (and there are not many) is to appoint a Purpose Officer who will head up the Triple Purpose Committee which will be responsible for Triple Purpose within the business. Each company will set its own priorities towards helping to make the world a better place (as well as making an ethical profit).I would imagine, for many businesses however, providing good, worthwhile and valuable jobs for disabled people will be a priority. Of course, all the vital housekeeping things such pay and support are absolutely vital. We need to get these things right. But another important ingredient is to encourage tens of thousands of businesses to actively look to employ people with disabilities. We need to encourage more businesses and the people who work for them to become Triple Purpose Companies. Because this will help to make the world a better place!