Emma Vogelmann is the Campaigns Intern at MDUK. She has SMA Type 2, is a member of Trailblazers and is a disability rights activist. Here, she blogs on the priorities she wants the Government to pursue to close the disability employment gap:
This week I want to talk about the infamous disability employment gap and to explain what barriers people with disabilities face when trying to find work. If you’ve read any of my previous work or have met me, you’ll know I could talk for England about this topic! The disability employment gap is a major concern of many young people with disabilities who, like myself, are looking for work. The gap currently stands at about 32% and requires urgent attention.
In October 2016, Government published their Work, Health and Disability Green which outlined the Government’s proposals to tackle the disability employment gap. We can expect a White Paper to follow this Parliament which will set out any legislation the Government intends to put in place. The then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green MP said:
“A disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life – or in the workplace. What should count is a person’s talents and their determination and aspiration to succeed.”
This is certainly the right message – but what action is needed to achieve this?
In February this year I attended a Parliamentary roundtable meeting held by Muscular Dystrophy UK on the disability employment gap. This was a great opportunity for Trailblazers members to voice their concerns and make suggestions for what action the Government should take (which will hopefully be reflected in the White Paper).
One of the most important points raised was the need to extend the Access to Work scheme. The Access to Work scheme is designed to assist with paying for things like adapted equipment, support workers and transport costs. It isn’t a very widely known scheme and it can only be applied for once you have secured a job. The roundtable made clear the need for Access to Work discussions and assessments to take place before an individual receives a job offer – so that they are ready to begin work as quickly as possible. In some instances people have been forced to delay their start date because of the delay in these assessments. The roundtable also called for the scheme to be extended to support individuals taking on internships and work experience. I wholly support this suggestion. I have gained invaluable experience from unpaid work experience and internships – without this I would not have enough experience to be in the running for a job. I have been lucky enough to be able to fund these myself or get some of my expenses covered by organisations I have worked with but this is not the case for many talented young people with disabilities. By expanding the Access to Work scheme to cover unpaid experience the Government would be making people with disabilities more employable therefore taking a step towards closing the employment gap.
An ‘invisible barrier’ that many attendees also mentioned was that they struggled to find suitable employment and felt there was not enough support for disabled job seekers. When you have a disability there are many factors that need to be considered when applying for jobs. It is not enough just to look at the job description or personal specification and ask yourself whether you can do the job or not. You have to think about whether you have transport to get to the workplace, whether you can physically do the job and the amount of hours it calls for, if you have enough care and so many other things it is almost overwhelming! Those who were in the Support Group of Employment and Support Allowance felt that work coaches at Jobcentres do not have enough training to be able to provide personalised and well-informed advice to disabled job seekers. This would be very beneficial as not only would it hopefully lead to suitable employment, but it would also prevent people losing their benefits if they are not seen to be applying for jobs which are unsuitable. Given the difficulty in finding work many people with disabilities live solely off of their benefits therefore having a benefit stopped (in my view unfairly) can have a seriously detrimental impact. I support the suggestion for better disability training of Jobcentre work coaches and agree with the call for Jobcentre careers advisors to have lived experience of disability wherever possible.
These suggestions are an excellent start towards closing the disability employment gap but there needs to be a way of monitoring their success. At the roundtable it was put forward that the Government should impose obligation on all employers to make public data relating to disability employment. This could specifically looked at how many posts were advertised, how many disabled people applied, where shortlisted and appointed. These figures could help identify possible reasons why there are so few people with disabilities in work. For example if there is a high number of applications and few appointments then perhaps there might be issue with certain employers which could then be addressed. This would be a great aspect for the Government to include in the White Paper and would help target future action on the disability employment gap.
MDUK’s report makes a number of suggestions for the Government to consider when drafting the White Paper on the disability employment gap. There are real measures they can take that would remove at least some of the obstacles people with disabilities face when looking for work.
In summary, here are the three things I want to be included in the White Paper on the disability employment gap:
- Expand the Access to Work scheme to include unpaid internships and work experience
- More disability training for work coaches at Jobcentres
- A requirement for employers to collect data on disability