‘Unacceptable’ employment barriers faced by disabled people

I have joined cross party calls for the Government to set more meaning full targets for reducing the employment gap for disabled people, radically overhaul employment support, and address the lack of trust disabled people have in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

As a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee and a champion of disability rights for several years, I also introduced a Bill on disability employment in 2015.

The Select Committee report ‘Disability employment gap – addressing these issues’ supports many of the features of my Bill.

The DWP’s national programme for supporting disabled people to find and stay in work is not working and must instead be delivered at a local level as part of a renewed effort to break down the unacceptable barriers disabled people face in the labour market.

The select committee’s report clearly shows that the Government and employers have a lot more to do to support sick and disabled people remain in work and return to work where possible.

It also highlights that the current social security system is not fit for purpose having had £33bn cuts in support to working age people, including disabled people, who can’t work or can only do part time work, driving them into poverty and destitution.

It reflected on a punitive culture in the social security system which too often demonises and dehumanises disabled people instead of supporting them, and does little to address the unacceptable barriers disabled people face when trying to find work.

Like our NHS, our social security system should be there for any one of us in our time of need, whether we’ve become sick or disabled, lost our job, lost a loved one or have retired.

Fundamentally, we all need to be treated with dignity and respect.

In their report on the disability employment gap1, the committee also calls on the Government to re-adopt its previous target of halving the gap, which currently stands at nearly 30 percentage points. A new, more ambitious target of getting an additional 1.2 million disabled people into work by 2027 should also be introduced.

The National Disability Strategy, published on Wednesday (28th July) after the select committee report was agreed, revealed that the Government first intends to reach its goal of helping one million more disabled people back into work, before working with disabled people ‘to think about how we can build on this success’.

Despite assurances given to the Committee from the Minister for Disabled People, there is no consultation question in the Government’s health and disability Green Paper on how the target will be set.

The committee’s report warns that issues of trust continue to hamper the relationship between DWP and disabled people, with the department itself admitting that this is impacting on its delivery of services.

During its inquiry, the committee heard evidence of the difficulties disabled people encountered accessing support through Jobcentre Plus, including that some British Sign Language users were not offered an interpreter, while visually impaired people sometimes found the centres inaccessible.

Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, 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.”

We had hoped that its new National Disability Strategy would chart a course to a more ambitious and stretching target. But, despite the Minister’s assurances, there is no new target, nor even a consultation on one. That is a major disappointment.

“The currently, overly centralised model of support simply isn’t working. We need a radical new localised approach. Support for finding and staying in a job that is much more personalised, flexible and effective should be delivered by groups of local authorities working with the NHS, training providers and charities.”

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.

Disabled people and their views must now be put at both the heart of decision making and service delivery. Only then can we start to break down barriers to employment and ensure everyone has equal opportunities when it comes to work.

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