Politicians are keen to get as many people as possible on incapacity benefit/employment and support allowance back to work, which is no mean feat in a recession. But just how easy is it for disabled individuals who are well enough to work to find employment? There are more than two million disabled workers currently employed in the UK, but many more are unable to find jobs.
“One in five disabled people in the UK are unemployed but want to work; this compares to one in 15 of non-disabled people,” a spokesperson for the Employers’ Forum on Disability tells me. “Disabled jobseekers often face physical and attitudinal barriers, such as the accessibility of buildings and the misplaced attitudes of some employers.”
But according to the organisation, which helps members recruit and retain disabled employees, companies doing so save money and are more productive. “We know from the experience of our members, who employ around 20 per cent of the UK’s workforce, that it makes commercial and strategic sense for employers to get it right on disability,” EFD’s spokesperson says. “Those that do are better employers for everyone, and make significant cost savings and productivity gains through developing more efficient recruitment, employment and customer service processes. For example, employers expert in making reasonable adjustments can typically save £2,000 per person through return to work and increased productivity.”
According to research by the charity Scope, many disabled employees are just as skilled as other workers, stay in their jobs for longer and have a strong work commitment. They are no more likely to take time off work sick than their colleagues. And while disability is often associated with wheelchairs, only five percent of disabled people use them.
Yet there are other barriers besides the lack of jobs available in the recession. Building accessibility is one. Under the Disability Discrimination Act, employers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for customers and staff with disabilities. Many of these are free and can be funded by the government’s Access to Work Scheme. But there are other problems too. “Accessibility is not just about wheelchair ramps: only 5-8 percent of the UK’s population are wheelchair users,” says EFD’s spokesperson. “It’s also important to make websites accessible: 1.3 million disabled people in the UK are excluded by inaccessible and badly designed e-recruitment websites.”
What’s more, many people still face workplace discrimination. “People with disabilities may face negative attitudes at work based on outdated notions of what they are capable of achieving. For attitudes to change, any solutions need to have the support of both employers and disabled people. The stigma of mental health is particularly strong in workplaces, with many managers unsure how best to support colleagues who may be mentally unwell. That’s why EFD has publications that provide line managers with practical advice on a range of issues, including mental health.”
For the Conservatives’ policy to return more IB claimants to the workplace to be successful, EFD believes it must have the support of both disabled people and employers. What’s more, there must be plenty of training opportunities available because individuals with disabilities are twice as likely as other workers to lack qualifications.
Are you a disabled worker or jobseeker? Have you experienced discrimination in the workplace or struggled to find work? Are you an employer with experience of working with disabled employees? What are you experiences? Leave a message and let me know. Thanks, Piper.
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