The potential of Disability Confident

18 March 2016

The Government has committed to halving the disability gap which means supporting around 1.2 million more disabled people into sustainable employment. Crucial to this will be redesigning the benefit system – the focus of Reform’s last paper Working Welfare – and welfare-to-work provision.

The Spending Review saw a dramatic reduction in funding for the new Work and Health Programme compared to its predecessor. Investment in the programme is just £130 million a year by 2020– around 20 per cent of the current spend on Work Programme and Work Choice. The design principles behind the new scheme are yet to be decided but innovation will be essential to maintain and improve employment outcomes for disabled people. Consideration must be given not only to supply-side innovation but ensure that disabled people have equal opportunities to get a job when they are ready to enter work. Strengthening the responsibility of employers must play a part in tackling this challenge.

The business case for recruiting and retaining people with a health condition is strong. Studies show that on average disabled employees are as productive as non-disabled workers, have less time off sick and stay with their employers longer, increasing retention and saving money on recruiting and retaining new staff. The Government launched the Disability Confident Campaign nearly three years ago to raise awareness of these benefits and change attitudes of UK businesses towards disabled people. The campaign replaces the Positive About Disabled People scheme, also known as the ‘Two Ticks’ initiative, which failed to drive real change in closing the disability employment gap.

As an advertising campaign, the Disability Confident Campaign has been successful. To date, 376 employers are registered as official supporters. This demonstrates wide support among UK employers to improve disability equality in the workplace. However, the minimal requirements for employers to become Disability Confident limits the impact of this initiative and risks becoming a box ticking exercise, reminiscent of Two Ticks. Given its failure, it is of some concern that registration to become a Disability Confident employer includes the question “Are you a registered and accredited Two Ticks employer?”

A Freedom of Information request revealed that the number of ‘active’ Disability Confident employers is 68 – less than 20 per cent of the total cohort. The lack of evaluation or transparency in the current campaign begs the question ‘what are these employers actually doing?’ Greater formal expectations of employers who are, or would like to become, Disability Confident would give teeth to the campaign and is an essential step to prevent replicating the problems of its predecessor. Holding employers accountable against a framework of Disability Confident standards, as well as evaluating and sharing best practice could help to take this agenda from small scale Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives to everyday practice across business. Harnessing the potential of this campaign – using it as a lever for demand-side change – could significantly improve employment outcomes for disabled people, at minimal cost to the public purse.

The much anticipated White Paper is expected to give details of the new welfare-to-work provision for out-of-work benefit claimants. If the Government is to achieve its ambitious target of halving the disability employment gap, the other piece of the jigsaw must be addressed – helping employers to become confident about disability and create an inclusive workplace for disabled people.

Hannah Titley, Researcher, Reform

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