The Work and Pensions Select Committee have today (30th July) released their report on the disability employment gap. The report calls for a “radical overhaul” and a new ambitious target to eliminate employment barriers that disabled people face.

Statistics show that disabled people are considerably less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people, with just half of disabled people in work compared to 80% of non-disabled people.

Although this gap has shrunk slightly over recent years, with the number of disabled people in employment rising by 1.3 million, the report finds that disabled people still face unacceptable barriers to finding, staying in and progressing in work.

More ambitious targets

The government have set a target of getting one million more disabled people into work by 2027, However, the select committee argue the government should re-adopt its previous target of halving the disability employment gap and combine it with a new, more ambitious target of getting an additional 1.2 million disabled people into work by 2027. This is the equivalent to halving the disability employment gap at today’s employment levels.

To do this, the committee say the government should make it mandatory for employers to report on the proportion of their workforce who are disabled and larger companies should be required to publish this data. In this way, employers are held to account and actively encouraged to create a more inclusive workspace. The committee also want the government to address the disability pay gap and make more ambitious targets for closing this gap.

Delivering employment support

The report says that the current Work and Health Programme is not working for many disabled people and for this reason, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) must carry out a “radical overhaul of its approach to employment support for disabled people”.

They suggest that smaller, specialist providers are best placed to deliver support for disabled people and propose that local authorities should instead take responsibility for commissioning and delivering employment support for disabled people in their area.

‘Job carving’, where an employer tailors or creates roles that best match the skills of an employee, should also be implemented much more readily. The committee ask the government to provide detailed guidance to employers and providers about how they can job carve roles for disabled people and therefore improved their employment outcomes.

Job retention and supporting progression

As well as helping disabled people to find work, they should also be supported to retain their job and be given opportunities to progress at work. The committee say the government should monitor these rates to hold employers to account.

Furthermore, the report states that employers must have access to support and guidance on reasonable adjustments, since currently many do not understand their obligations or deliberately ignore them. Those who do not comply should be publicly named as another way of holding employers to account.

The government must also improve accessibility needs for disabled people accessing Jobcentre Plus services. Anecdotal evidence shows that within such settings, BSL users were frequently not provided with an interpreter and visually impaired people were often not offered assistance. The committee say that this is unacceptable and the DWP must take urgent steps to rectify this by investing in these crucial services.

The committee would like the government to improve the accessibility of the Access to Work scheme, which currently has a “bureaucratic, cumbersome and time-consuming application process”. The report says the DWP must work with disabled people to re-design this application process.

Similarly, the Disability Confident programme must see improvement. During the inquiry, the committee found that the programme was often used as a “tick box exercise” and is over reliant on “self-certification as a means of awarding accreditation to employer”. The committee now want the DWP to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of the scheme and think about ways it could be altered to encourage meaningful change for employers.

Supporting disabled people back into work after the Covid-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected disabled people in a number of ways. In terms of employment, 71% of disabled people had their work impacted by the pandemic, compared to 61% of non-disabled people. To support disabled people back into work, the government launched its Kickstart and Restart programmes.

However, the report states that due to deficiencies in the collection and storage of claimant data in the Universal Credit system, the Department cannot effectively measure, in real time, how well both schemes are working for disabled people. To combat this, the committee ask the DWP to immediately improve this data collection and regularly publish the results.

Working from home has also made life easier for some (but not all) disabled people. For this reason, the committee ask the government to amend legislation to allow workers the statutory right to request flexible working from the beginning of their employment.

Improving engagement with disabled people

Since the publication of the government’s National Strategy for Disabled People, the DWP has come under fire for their lack of engagement with disabled people. The Department acknowledge that there is a lack of trust towards it from disabled people which acts as a barrier to the delivery of its services.

The committee urge the Department to adopt a protocol for its engagement with disabled people and listen to their experiences. This is particularly pertinent in the context of the disability benefits system which is in need of an urgent reform, according to the report. 

Improving employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities and autism

In response to the committee's findings, Edel Harris, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “Many people with a learning disability can work and want to work. With the right support they can also make fantastic employees. However – as this report highlights - the Government needs to do far more to open up opportunities for people with a learning disability to get into employment.

“Many disabled people face huge barriers in finding a job, something that can be even worse for people with a learning disability. Research suggests that employment rates for people with a learning disability are much, much lower than the general population or other disabled people - yet including people with different experiences and skills will only enhance businesses and their offer. 

“We welcome this report and want to see action from Government on the recommendations the Committee has set out, particularly on areas like localised employment support and reforming current assessments. People with a learning disability must not be left behind.” 

The National Autistic Society have similarly urged the government to act upon the report’s proposals. Tim Nicholls, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the National Autistic Society said: “Recent ONS data suggests that only around 1 in 5 autistic adults are in employment, despite our research showing the vast majority want to work. This is a huge waste of autistic people’s talents and potential.   

“We urge the Government to act on the Select Committee’s important recommendations. In particular, we want to see better training so that Jobcentre Plus staff properly understand autism and how to better support autistic job seekers. And it’s vital the Government publishes robust data from the Labour Force Survey as soon as possible, which will give us a proper picture of the autism employment gap.”