Disability Organisations Unite to Call on Government to Act to Tackle Disability Employment Discrimination

Posted on: 22nd October 2021.

Leading UK disability organisations, including charities, academics and trade unions, have united to urge the government to take more action to end employment discrimination against disabled people. Following the publication of the government’s National Disability Strategy earlier this year, the group has launched a Disability Employment Charter as a clear mandate for action: outlining the steps government and employers must take to address the disadvantage disabled people experience in UK workplaces.

The Charter, created by the Business Disability Forum, the DFN Charitable Foundation, Disability Rights UK, Disability@Work, Leonard Cheshire, Scope, Shaw Trust Foundation, UNISON, and University of Warwick, calls on the government to increase workforce transparency by requiring large employers to publish annual data on the number of disabled people they employ as a proportion of their workforce, and their pay gaps.

Further proposals for reform include the option to work flexibly from day one to become the legal default for all jobs, stronger rights to paid disability leave for assessment, rehabilitation and training, improvements to the Disability Confident and Access to Work schemes, and an increase in Statutory Sick Pay to the European average.

The Charter also calls for employers to notify employees on decisions regarding reasonable adjustment requests within two weeks. Regarding this, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: "Disabled workers often wait far too long for even the most simple of workplace adjustments to be put in place. The government should give employers a two-week deadline to agree the required changes to offices and equipment. This would help prevent employees leaving their roles frustrated at lengthy delays".

In addition to the nine founder members, a further 28 charities and Disabled People's Organisations have signed the Charter, including national bodies such as the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Sense, and Mencap.

Kamran Malik, CEO of Disability Rights UK explains: "Disabled people face a range of hurdles in finding and progressing in work, which just shouldn't be there. The Charter simply and powerfully sets out the concerted actions that Government needs to take to move the dial forward. It's not enough to tinker round the edges, we need a bold plan to bring down the barriers."

The National Disability Strategy was heralded by the government as a chance to ‘build back better and fairer for all our disabled people'. The Charter argues more needs to be done to reduce the disability employment gap, and it calls on the government to bring forward detailed proposals to tackle the employment disadvantage disabled people face. It also argues that addressing the barriers disabled people encounter in employment is not only the right thing to do, but also makes business sense by giving employers access to the widest talent pool and helping them address skills shortages, thereby enabling disabled workers to contribute to the post-Covid recovery.

Professor Kim Hoque, co-founder of Disability@Work, and one of the Charter's creators, described the Charter as "a powerful and timely message to government from the country's leading organisations representing disabled people that there is an overwhelming need for more robust government action, and broad consensus regarding the form this action should take."

The Government's National Disability Strategy, launched this year following its announcement by the Prime Minister in the 2019 elections, was criticised by some disability rights campaigners and even the Government's own party as falling short of the transformational plan that many expected – with Conservative Peer Lord Shinkwin describing the plans as a "damp squib."

Lord Shinkwin, Chair of the Centre for Social Justice Disability Commission from 2020 to 2021, said: "The Government should stop using business as a feeble fig leaf for inaction and instead celebrate the example some corporates are already setting. Transparent and consistent data reporting, the lead call of this Charter, is the first step towards building a level playing field on which businesses can compete for top disabled talent. It's time the Government built on the success of gender pay gap reporting and realised the potential of this tool to bring about true meritocracy and equality of opportunity."

Currently, disabled people face a disability employment gap that has remained persistently high over the past decade at 30 percentage points and a pay gap of 19.6%, alongside poorer work-life balance, job-related mental health, and job satisfaction.

Disabled people have also been particularly negatively affected by the pandemic: 21 in every 1,000 disabled people were made redundant in 2020, compared to 13 in every thousand for the rest of the population.

Clare Gray, Shaw Trust Foundation Organisational Lead for Disability Advocacy and Accessibility commented: "In 2021 the labour market is beginning to recover post-pandemic. But despite the job market improving, too many people miss out from opportunities that good work can bring, and the disability employment gap remains stubbornly high."

Gemma Hope, Director of Policy at Leonard Cheshire added: "Disabled people's work life has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. With the labour market slowly improving the government must close the disability employment gap so disabled people are not further left behind.”

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, one of the Charter's founder members, commented: “The Charter sets out the responsibilities that we all have - as business, government and providers - to work with disabled people to find solutions and to recognise the valuable contribution that everyone can make to the workforce.”

To find out more about the Charter, and how individuals and businesses can help to support its aims, please visit: www.disabilityemploymentcharter.org

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