On Wednesday 25th February, I introduced a 10 Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons, entitled Employment of People with Disabilities (Reporting) Bill. The Bill will require listed companies, public bodies and voluntary agencies to report annually on the number and percentage of people they employ who have disabilities. The Bill was passed and is scheduled for a Second Reading on 27th March. You can read my speech here.
People with disabilities continue to face many barriers in accessing work, whether they have a visible or invisible disability or illness. These barriers may be physical but they are also cultural. The proportion of working age people with disabilities employed is significantly lower than the non-disabled working population. Futhermore, the disability employment gap has widened slightly in the last few years.
Although 4 million people with disabilities are working already, there are another 1.3m who are available to and want to work, but are currently unemployed. As the vast majority of disabled people used to work, this is such a waste of their skills, experience and talent. As a consequence of this, disabled people are twice as likely to be living in persistent poverty compared with non-disabled people. This has implications for disabled people’s families as well; families with one disabled member make up one third of all families living in poverty.
There are many reasons for the disability employment gap including a lack of information and advice for employers. The Disability Confident Campaign has tried to increase understanding of disability and remove barriers to work by working with employers to attract, recruit and retain disabled people.
However, discrimination of disabled workers is still prevalent with a recent survey showing 15% of disabled people felt they had been discriminated against when applying for a job, and 1 in 5 while they were in work. Information is not enough to address this. It needs leadership.
My Bill is a very modest step to help challenge these attitudes and behaviour. By requiring employers to report the number and proportion of people with disabilities that they employ, my Bill is seeking to raise their awareness of the disability employment gap in their own organisation, prompting them to consider this information and what they may do about it. As we know, what’s not measured or reported is rarely acted on.
On its own, reporting will do little to address the disability employment gap. In addition to leadership from Government we need leadership from organisations to shift attitudes to disability in the workplace. Training for employers, and more widely, can help develop empathy and change attitudes.
There also need to be practical measures to support disabled people at work, enabling them to thrive and protecting them from prematurely leaving the labour market. Some disability charities have recommended more flexible leave arrangements as well as extending Access to Work which currently only supports a tiny minority of disabled people.
And of course more needs to be done to help disabled people into work. As has been reported in recent Work & Pensions Select Committee inquiries, the Work Capability Assessment needs replacing with a more holistic, whole person assessment and one disabled job centre employment adviser helping 600 disabled people is just not sufficient.
It is over 70 years since legislation was first introduced to prohibit employment-related discrimination against disabled people. Sadly, we are still fighting to address the inequality in employment people with disabilities still face. Changing attitudes and behaviour needs cultural change, it needs leadership. My Bill takes another step along this path for fairness.