employedThe government will reduce the disability employment gap by just 2.6% by 2020 on current rates of progress – and will not make its manifesto commitment to halve it until 2065 unless action is taken, a report by a Parliamentary group has said.

The report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Disability, entitled ‘Ahead of the arc’, highlights the government’s ambition of cutting current disability employment gap by half is “highly ambitious” and will only be achieved with decisive and innovative action. 

The gap is currently 32% so the target is to hit 16% in 2020. This requires moving 1,074,000 (a third more) disabled people into employment and raising their employment rate from 48% to 64%. The gap has narrowed by 1.3% in the four years since 2013. If this rate continues, and all else remains equal, it will take almost 50 years (until 2065) to narrow the gap to its target of 16%, the report said.

Multiple and repeated failures of public and private sector organisations to address discrimination and disadvantage against disabled people is blamed by the report for the size and endurance of the gap. Likewise, the failure to provide appropriate services and support to help disabled people create, gain and retain employment. 

It added that the government needs to do more to make up the gap and that starts by working in genuine partnership with disabled people and their organisations to ensure that disabled people gain disproportionate access to the jobs created and the means to create new jobs.

Economic growth alone will not help to reduce the employment gap, with only 125,000 new jobs per year to be created between now and 2020, according to Office for Budget Responsibility statistics. To assume disabled people would take the majority of these is unrealistic to assume, the report said.

The Inquiry also found evidence of ‘institutional disablism’ – where public and private sector organisations fail to provide appropriate support to disabled people in the workplace and in access to start up funds, business advice and business networks. The report said it is essential the government requires its own departments, local authorities and delivery organisations to step up and prioritise policies with substantive practices to increase employment among disabled people rather than assuming it may be delivered by other organisations.

The report highlighted that disabled people need to access jobs at a higher rate than they currently do. It said this may mean preferential treatment, the sort of positive action that equalities legislation makes possible. Also at it should require inclusive recruitment and retention policies to be standard clauses in public sector contracts of an appropriate size and duration, and ensuring that this requirement flows from large contractors to smaller contractors through good supply chain management.

Dr Lisa Cameron MP and chair of the APPG on Disability said: “This report looks at factors that the DWP green paper on employment and disability largely overlooks – are there enough future vacancies and how can Government ensure that disabled people are able to either create jobs or take opportunities in major areas of the economy? It argues for a new relationship with disabled people in which Government spending also has a social dividend that helps them gain work; and Government funded bodies such as Innovate UK and the Business Bank target a proportion of their funding at supporting disabled people. That funding could be used to help disabled people become self-employed where appropriate, start businesses, invent products or services that overcome their barriers to the labour market or even create new markets that benefit everyone.” 

Philip Connolly, policy manager of Disability Rights UK and one of the authors of the Inquiry said: “New and additional job opportunities in the economy will make back to work support more effective and in turn provide a real incentive for disabled people to move off benefits, where their health condition makes this appropriate. We urge the Government to act on the Inquiry’s findings and shift its focus from cutting disabled people’s benefits to improving their support to get and keep jobs.”

Professor Nick Bacon of Cass Business School added: “The disability employment gap represents the continuation of a collective failure. Both public and private organisations need to set targets with regard to helping increase and retain the number of disabled people in work. The Government must hold organisations to account in meeting these targets. Public sector procurement power should be used to improve disabled people’s job prospects. Disabled people need disproportionate access to new jobs and that means preferential treatment, the sort of positive action that equalities legislation makes possible.” 

Professor Victoria Wass of Cardiff Business School said: “Measuring the disability status of employees, applicants and users may appear to be an uninteresting and an unnecessary exercise but it is an essential pre-requisite to identifying disability gaps, to setting targets to reduce them and in holding organisations to account in meeting targets. If you don’t measure disability, you don’t find it and you don’t manage it.”