Calls for ‘radical new approach’ to reduce disability employment gap

Disabled entrance door button Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

A radical overhaul is needed to tackle the “unacceptable” employment barriers facing disabled people, MPs have said.

A new, ambitious target is needed to reduce the disability employment gap, according to the Work and Pensions Committee.

MPs urged the Government to re-adopt its previous target of halving the 30% gap, which they said had only closed by 5% since 2013, while the number of disabled people in jobs had increased by 1.3 million.

The committee’s report said disabled people are considerably less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people and still face “unacceptable barriers” to finding and progressing in work.

The report warned that issues of trust continue to hamper the relationship between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and disabled people.

During their inquiry, the MPs said they heard evidence of the difficulties disabled people encounter in accessing support through Jobcentre Plus.

Committee chairman Stephen Timms said: “The past two weeks have seen DWP release a flurry of long-promised publications about its offer of support for disabled people.

“There is much in those documents that is welcome, but there are some areas in which the Government must be bolder in its ambitions.

“The Government is not far from meeting its current target for increasing the number of disabled people in work, but it has largely got there because overall levels of employment have risen and the prevalence of disability has increased, not because of substantial progress in tackling the barriers that disabled people face.”

Mr Timms said MPs had hoped the Government’s National Disability Strategy published this week would chart a course to a more ambitious and stretching target.

“But there is no new target, nor even a consultation on one. That is a major disappointment,” he said.

“The gap between the proportion of disabled and non-disabled people in work has remained stubbornly high for years. The currently overly centralised model of support simply isn’t working.

“We need a radical new localised approach. Too often, decisions affecting disabled people are made without them being meaningfully consulted or listened to.

“During the development of the National Disability Strategy, disabled people have said that the Government has failed to make its engagement accessible for them.”

James Taylor, of disability equality charity Scope, said: “The current system isn’t working. There are a million disabled people in the UK who can and want to work but are denied the opportunity.

“Disabled people have been hit extremely hard by the pandemic, and we’ve yet to feel its full economic fallout.

“The disability employment gap has been stuck at around 30% for over a decade. The Government needs to set itself much more ambitious targets to halve the gap.”

Daniel Jennings, senior policy and campaigns officer at Epilepsy Action, said: “We know that people with epilepsy are one of the groups most severely affected. This is despite the fact that many can have successful careers and stay in work with minimal reasonable adjustments from their employers.

“We agree that both Access to Work and Disability Confident need to be reformed to support people with epilepsy in securing, and staying in, their jobs.

“We also welcome the recommendation that employers should be required to publish data on the proportion of workers who are disabled, as an effective way of holding them to account and closing the disability employment gap.”

Richard Kramer, chief executive of disability charity Sense, said: “Earlier this week, we highlighted how the National Disability Strategy doesn’t take the strides needed to deliver transformational change for disabled people. This latest report is further evidence that more needs to be done to tackle inequalities.”

A Government spokesperson said: “Through our inclusive multibillion-pound Plan for Jobs we are helping more disabled jobseekers to find, retain and progress in fulfilling work, offering specialist programmes, paired with personal support from our work coaches and disability employment advisers.

“The latest figures show the disability employment gap has narrowed, but we remain committed to reducing it further as we work towards our goal to see one million more disabled people in work by 2027.

“Our recently published National Disability Strategy, Health and Disability Benefits Green Paper and response to the Health is Everyone’s Business consultation have set out further actions that will support disabled people in their everyday lives, including by boosting career prospects for those who can work.”

Tim Nicholls, head of policy and public affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “We’re pleased that the select committee has recognised the barriers so many autistic adults face.

“Recent ONS data suggests that only around one in five autistic adults are in employment, despite our research showing the vast majority want to work. This is a huge waste of autistic people’s talents and potential.”