Going beyond Disability Confident

26 July 2016

As someone who has worked for over 15 years to create a level playing field for disabled people in employment, I commend the Government on reinvigorating and updating its approach to encourage employers to become better at recruiting and retaining disabled people via its “Disability Confident” campaign. I also commend their ambition of halving the disability-employment-rate gap by 2020.

But they’ve got a long way to go in a short time, so is there more that they could be doing than giving the “Two Ticks” scheme what might be seen as a new lick of paint?

Many of the recommendations for how this can be achieved in Reform’s new report, out today, are a welcome contribution. Here are my three suggestions.

Removing barriers

An employer’s willingness and ability to make workplace adjustments (reasonable adjustments) is without doubt the most significant factor when it comes to attracting, recruiting and retaining disabled people. It is, therefore, obvious that the most powerful intervention government has at its disposal is Access to Work (AtW) – the scheme by which the Government contributes to the cost of workplace adjustments.

But AtW is notorious for being the Government’s “best kept secret”. It is also somewhat cumbersome and inefficient. So I would urge the Government to:

  • Be far more proactive in promoting the scheme, particularly with educators and the health service so it’s brought to people’s attention at the point in time they need it.
  • Make it easier for employers – both large and small – to use AtW so that it works with them rather than in parallel or in isolation.
  • Provide an online portal to help employers, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, understand more about making adjustments and where to get support.
  • Learn from the private sector in how to improve efficiency and reduce costs in making adjustments; organisations like Lloyds Banking Group have democratised adjustments and slashed their operating costs at the same time.

Opening doors

Whilst there is an understandable focus by the Government on getting disabled adults into work, the fact is that every year 120,000 young people with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) enter the labour market and they are on average four-times more likely to become unemployed than those who do not have SEND.

Over the last year I chaired a working group for the Department for Work and Pensions looking at the challenges faced by disabled young people in the transition from education into employment. Our report, From Learning to Earning, contains a raft of recommendations for educators, employers and the Government that will help smooth that transition and improve employment prospects for disabled young people.

Of all our recommendations, the one we felt was pivotal was urging the Government to expand its supported internship scheme to a larger group of students.

Supported internships provide young people aged 16-24 with SEND with a workplace based learning programme, supported by a work coach at no cost to the employer, that equips them with the skills they need to move into paid employment.

Evidence from employers such as National Grid demonstrates how effective supported internships are at providing valuable workplace experience and improving employment prospects.

It goes further though; supported internships really are the gift that keeps giving because they challenge employer perceptions of what disabled people can achieve, they demonstrate the value that disabled people can bring to the workplace, and they ‘normalise’ disability in the workplace and improve all-round employer confidence.

Given its benefits and track record, it makes perfect sense for the Government to extend this programme – and to include disabled young people who are not on Education Health Care Plans so that those with less severe disabilities are able to benefit.

Inspiring achievement

Inspiration is something of a dodgy word in the context of disability – saying a disabled person is “so inspirational” is often felt to be patronising and pandering to the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. But there’s nothing wrong with inspiring people to go beyond what they thought might be possible – and I’m thinking here of both disabled people and employers.

Look at what Sport England’s “This Girl Can” campaign did for encouraging female participation in sport – over the course of a year 2.8 million 14-40 year old women have done some or more physical activity as a result of the campaign.

I know there’s a bit of a difference between a trip to the gym and getting a job, but what if the Government acted as a catalyst by commissioning a similar style campaign – leveraging mainstream and social media – to bring together enlightened employers and Disabled Peoples’ Organisations to showcase the art of the possible; what disabled people can achieve if they are given a truly level playing field on which to compete?

As an example of how powerful this can be, I don’t know of anyone who watched the first episode of BBC/Optomen TV’s “Employable Me” earlier this year who was not deeply moved when an apparently unemployable young man with autism was found to be intelligent, skilled and articulate once given a chance by an employer.

So, in conclusion I would urge the Government to think broadly and creatively – remove the road humps, create opportunities and raise aspirations.

Graeme Whippy MBE, Business Disability Consultant

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