Government disability strategy fails to address barriers to employment for disabled people

Human Resources expert at the Business School highlights what must change to best support more than 14 million disabled people in the UK

The UK government must make substantial changes beyond those contained in its National Disability Strategy (NDS) to help disabled people’s employment.

Published at the end of July, the long-awaited government strategy, which seeks to address the barriers encountered by the UK’s 14.1 million disabled people, made clear the need to increase employer engagement with the disability employment agenda, and the requirement for employers to help address the barriers disabled people encounter in finding and retaining work.

However, Professor Nick Bacon, Professor of Human Resource Management at the Business School (formerly Cass) and Professor Kim Hoque, of Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, co-founders of Disability@Work, believe the strategy should prioritise immediate action and focus on substantive policy change as opposed to consultations and reviews of existing policy.

There are five areas which Professor Bacon believes need immediate attention:

  1. The headline disability employment gap figure should not be a measure of progress – while the strategy states the disability employment gap has narrowed significantly in recent years, it is important to adjust for workforce disability prevalence in estimating the size of the disability employment gap, as individuals identifying as disabled today who would not have done so in the past are skewing the headline disability employment gap figure downwards.
  2. Introducing mandatory disability employment and pay gap reporting – it is disappointing that the government has only reached the stage of consulting on the introduction of mandatory reporting and the NDS does not make any reference to pay gap reporting. Once the promised consultation is completed by the end of 2021, it is imperative the necessary legislation follows in the first quarter of 2022. Additionally, the government should not promote the Voluntary Reporting Framework on disability, mental health, and wellbeing while the consultation on mandatory reporting is ongoing, given the latter should supersede the former.
  3. Reforming the government’s Disability Confident scheme – the NDS should include clear proposals to revise the Disability Confident employer scheme, to make the award dependent on outcomes such as the proportion of disabled people in the employers’ workforce and disability gaps in the experience of work, rather than their adoption of certain policies and practices.
  4. Increased commitment for government procurement to be leveraged to improve disability employment outcomes – although the NDS makes a commitment to leveraging ‘government procurement spend to drive improved outcomes for disabled people’, not enough is being done. Failure to introduce methods including; guaranteeing disability will be considered when awarding contracts; amending disability metrics in contract award decisions; targeting company-wide change as opposed to only the contract workforce; and holding to account those who fail to demonstrate progress, must be evident.
  5. The role of trade unions – unions play an important role both in increasing disabled people’s awareness of their rights and in helping them exercise these rights. The failure to offer proposals to assist trade unions’ efforts to increase disabled people’s knowledge of, and ability to exercise, their rights, is a significant weakness of the NDS.

Professor Nick Bacon said: “The NDS represents a missed opportunity to introduce substantive change and instead offers consultation, and subsequently potential delays, on a range of issues impacting the employment opportunities of millions of disabled people in the UK.

“The prevalence adjusted disability employment gap is unchanged since the 2010 election suggesting more than a decade of missed opportunities. While government requires employers to report progress and future plans on gender equality, it has to date resisted calls for a similar approach regarding the equal treatment of disabled people.

“It is now time to encourage more employers to focus on hiring and retaining disabled people. The main initiative regarding employers, the Disability Confident scheme, encourages employers to demonstrate good intentions but they are not required to deliver positive employment outcomes for disabled people. More action beyond good intentions is required from government and employers alike.”

The full response to Disability@Work’s response to the National Disability Strategy can be found on its website.


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