Cross departmental strategy needed to close the disability empoyment gap
Last week, the government published a response to the public consultation on its ‘Improving Lives’ strategy (link opens in new tab)
on work, health and disability. Through a range of new and existing health, welfare and employment reforms, the government aims to get a million more disabled people into work by 2027. This is as much about preventing people from falling out of work as supporting them into work, and it requires a comprehensive, wide-ranging action programme, according to the government.
Through our pre-general election engagement earlier this year, we urged the political parties not to forget about closing the disability employment gap (link opens in new tab)
during Brexit negotiations, and so we very much welcome the continued focus on this government manifesto commitment.
We are particularly pleased to see the government take forward a number of the recommendations we made in our response (link opens in new tab)
to the public consultation; for example, that the Health and Work Conversation should be voluntary for those in the Support Group (i.e. furthest away from work), that claimant and employer information portals should be developed, and that a focus on social prescribing is needed (i.e. looking at work as a route to improved health). We also very much welcome the government’s clear, time bound plan to implement the measures outlined in the Improving Lives strategy and the commitment to report annually on progress in reducing the disability employment gap.
The Improving Lives consultation response is published as the government’s new Work and Health Programme (WHP) is also launched (link opens in new tab)
. The WHP will offer joined-up and personally tailored employment, health and wellbeing support for people who are unemployed with health conditions and disabilities. Shaw Trust has been the most successful WHP bidder, winning a 35% share of the contracts available. We will deliver the WHP contracts for the Home Counties, Central England (link opens in new tab)
and West London (link opens in new tab
from early next year.
Why closing the gap matters
The employment gap between the disabled and general population has remained stubbornly static at around 30% for over a decade. As well as barriers to finding employment, disabled people also face great challenges to staying in work. According to the Office of National Statistics, for every 100 disabled people that enter work, 114 leave work.
As well as being crucial to the health and wellbeing of disabled people, closing this employment gap and supporting disabled people to stay in work will deliver an economic benefit of £260 million, for example by boosting the spending power of disabled people.
A national disability strategy
While Improving Lives contains a number of welcome measures, Shaw Trust has argued that the government must go further to bring down the structural barriers to entering and staying in employment faced by disabled people. These barriers include social stigma, negative employer attitudes, the extra costs of disability, inaccessible transport, a lack of adapted housing and social care enabling disabled people to live independently, and a lack of workplace adjustments and training to support disabled people to develop and progress in their jobs and careers.
As set out in an essay by Gemma Hope, our Head of Policy and Communications, in the first Shaw Trust Policy Institute publication ‘Opportunity for All (link opens in new tab)
earlier this year, a radical new approach is needed, built around a new, comprehensive disability strategy. This needs to cover all relevant areas of public policy and be joined up across UK government departments, devolved administrations and local government through a common commitment to support disabled people to live inclusive, independent lives. It must engage employers directly, and learn from what has worked in the UK and overseas. Formulation and delivery of the strategy must be built on a co-production approach that harnesses the experience and expertise of disabled people.
Without such a comprehensive, cross governmental strategy, the government may struggle to deliver its target to get a million more disabled people into work, and support them to build sustainable, rewarding careers.
Both through our continuing Policy Institute (link opens in new tab)
work, and experience and learning gained from our delivery of the government’s work and health programme, Shaw Trust very much looks forward to playing our full part in supporting this cross government approach to the disability employment gap.