A million new jobs for disabled people on the road to full employment?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer wants the UK to achieve full employment by creating more than two million new jobs by 2020. The Resolution Foundation, in its welcome new report, “The road to full employment: what the journey looks like and how to make progress”, sets out how to achieve this by bringing people counted as “economically inactive” into the workforce.
To get there, a larger proportion of disabled people than any other marginalised group – 10% – would need to move into work. This is almost a million people, and it would take it past the 50% employment level for the first time (still a long way short of equality with non-disabled people). How will government achieve this? A White Paper is promised.
This is the same number of disabled people who wanted to work, but couldn’t get a job, twenty years ago. The general picture hasn’t changed in that time. Recent jobs growth has seen more disabled people working but the gap remains the same. The government strategy since 2010 – cut disability benefits to “incentivise” people to work – has delivered only misery and is to be continued with cuts next year to Employment and Support Allowance for disabled or sick people assessed as not ready for work. A rational person would conclude that there are other obstacles to overcome to improve the prospects of finding work for these one million disabled people.
These include discrimination in recruitment, and in retention.
Rates of employment vary enormously between impairment groups, but people with mental health problems have only a one in five chance of being in work, or of getting back into work after absences. They may be keen to resume a career, but carry a stigma so that prejudiced employers will not take them on. For people with visible impairments, employer ignorance and prejudice may simply lead to the unjustified assumption that the applicant could not possibly do the job, or would end up costing a lot for adjustments. Discrimination at recruitment has been illegal since 1995 but if it isn’t widespread, how explain the employment gap?
Removing barriers to recruitment only works if people who become disabled are retained, but a third of a million leave work for sickness benefits every year. It is easier for the employer to push a disabled person needing time off into early or medical retirement than to manage rehabilitation and eventual return. Misuse of sickness absence procedures to get rid of disabled workers is commonplace.
Resolution propose a one year automatic right to return to the job. This is an idea worth exploring. The TUC has called for a massive extension of the Access to Work scheme, that helps fund adjustments, to overcome employers’ fear of the cost (albeit that the average adjustment costs just £300). But AtW grants have been capped. Specialist programmes of training and support (as Work Choice was) work much better than generalist programmes (the Work Programme failed for disabled people), but WC is being merged. Along with these steps, the best solution would be a combination of effective education of employers, enforcement of legal obligations, and strong unions working with their disabled members to challenge every employer to recruit, retain, and not discriminate against disabled workers.
Will the forthcoming White Paper have this approach? Don’t hold your breath.