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Ahead of the arc launch transcript

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Disability will be launching their report, “Ahead of the arc” from 3pm on December 7th in the Boothroyd Room of Portcullis House.

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PHILIP CONNOLLY:  If people can leave their names with us at the end, if you haven't already left you names.  Thank you very much.

DR CAMERON: I think we will start in a couple of minutes, just once we make sure everyone is in the room. 

I think we will start the day.   I would like to thank everybody for coming here this afternoon.   I am Dr. Lisa Cameron, Chair of the all party parliamentary group for disability, and it is an absolute pleasure today to launch our APPG report into the disability employment gap, Ahead of the Arch, which we hope to be soon.  I want to thank all the contributors, including our secretariat, Disability Rights UK, support from Kings College London, Professor Kevin Farnsworth, Claire and Eleanor and the multitude of organisations and individuals from across the United Kingdom who have provided written and oral evidence to the all party group on their experiences and recommendations for action, what needs to be done to close the disability employment gap, or to halve it.  This is a cross‑party report, I am very, very proud to say that it has been endorsed by MPs from 7 parties across the House of Commons, alongside peers from the House of Lords. 

So the report was published last night, and I will briefly speak about some of the recommendations and we will then go on to hear from our Vice Chair, Johnny Mercer, and from other individuals and then we will take some questions from the audience here today. 

The UK government was elected on a manifesto commitment to halve the disability employment gap.  The gap was 32 percentage points in 2016, so the target is to hit 16 percentage points in 2020.  This requires moving a third more disabled people into employment and raising their employment rates from 48 per cent currently to 64 per cent.  The gap has narrowed by 1.3 percentage points in the 4 years since 2013.  If this rate continues as is and all else remains equal, it will take almost 50 years until 2065 to narrow the gap to 8 target points.  We can see from the report there is so much more work to do and current policy quite simply will not halve the gap.  Beside an endurance of the gap represent multiple failures of public and private sector organisations to address disadvantage discrimination and a lack of inclusion in our workplace to help disabled people to create, gain and retain employment.  Addressing the gap must become the responsibility of all government departments and it must also be the responsibility of devolved administrations and Scottish government, because where issues are devolved, we need to have parity across the UK.  The DWP spends around 350 million pounds a year on back‑to‑work support, but it is also the money spent elsewhere by government that potentially creates the greatest opportunity.  In the last financial year, the UK government spent some 242 billion pounds on purchasing goods and services for the functioning of our economy and society.  So public procurement is key and it is largely to date a missed opportunity.  We must use that influence and help redress the disability related employment disadvantages that persist.  Disabled people should also be supported to start their own small businesses to use their entrepreneurial skills and to employ others.  Quite frankly, there appears so far to have been a blind spot when it comes to this type of policy across successive governments.  Funding for disabled people to be self‑employed, start businesses, bring new products to the market harnesses their economic potential and means that we harness the economic potential of all groups of our society, including the disabled and those marginalised.  Major non‑departmental government bodies that we looked at in terms of our evidence, including Innovate UK and the Business Bank, both with a key role in job growth for the UK, do not record or monitor the uptake of their support by disability status, so what we need to do is ensure that we have evidence‑based practice and policy.  There requires to be data collection to know where we are going and how fast we are achieving our aims.  It is essential that government requires its own departments, all local authorities and delivery organisations to step up and prioritise policies with practices to increase employment amongst disabled people.  Two specific key priorities emerged from the inquiry:  In order to close the gap disabled people need to access jobs at a much higher rate than they currently do, requiring inclusive recruitment and retention policies, that these be standard across the UK.  Secondly, looking at the gap from an employment outflow, we need to improve the ability of disabled people to retain jobs, to retain their livelihoods.   Becoming disabled in 2016 and beyond should not mean losing your job.  It has been estimated, however, that between 35,000 and 48,000 workers a year are losing their jobs in this way.  Without a tighter legal framework and workplace regulations, those that promote retention, it is difficult to see how to stem the flow, but this is exactly what we must be working to do. 

The key, I think, is looking at skills and ability and shifting our debate from that of disability.  It is about harnessing potential and making the UK fully inclusive in terms of workplace policies.  This is not only to address the UK government pledge to halve the disability employment gap but it will also enable them to meet their obligations under the sustainable development goals, which are universal and equally apply to the United Kingdom, that we leave no disadvantaged or marginalised groups behind.  To date we have been leaving disabled people behind when it comes to employment.  We must work together and our all party group report, I think, is testament to the fact that we can do this.  We must work together across‑parties, across the United Kingdom and across our societies from the grass roots right up to the top of government, to ensure that equality and inclusion are at the heart of our society and our future.  Thank you very much.  (applause)

So in terms of moving on the all party parliamentary group discussions today, I'm now going to hand over to Vice Chair, Johnny Mercer, to speak about his thoughts on the report, where you think it should be leading and what you think is the key focus should be in the short term and more medium term.

JOHNNY MERCER MP: Thank you very much.  My name is Johnny Mercer, I'm the Member of Parliament for Plymouth.   I first got involved in this ‑‑ I left the military 18 months ago and you know the sort of Afghan conflict and so on had led to quite few of my friends becoming disabled, I got into special Olympics in Plymouth which was a fantastic opportunity, and throughout process it has been clear to me that the single biggest life enhancer for our disabled community is having a job.  And looking back over data, Lisa touched on it there, I mean some of it is pretty appalling in some of the ways some local authorities some companies make very little effort to really level the playing field to enable jobs to be allocated fairly, and by that I mean whether it is the process for recruitment, whether it is the slight changes you may need to make to someone's workplace to employ a disabled person, and I was really struck, really, by you have got a strong voice in Philip and so on, but I was really struck by the lack of real drive in government for this.  Now, that is why I think the APPG is really important, because it is a cross‑party effort.  There is no point in sort of endlessly hammering the government, it is about working within the envelope you have been given to get a better outcome for some of our most vulnerable and sometimes and obviously our disabled constituents as well.  I think the key things that really stood out to me where we can make changes, I run a disability conference in south west, in Plymouth and it is actually the largest event in the south‑west now, about getting disabled people into work and actually 2 weeks ago, when they held, unfortunately I couldn't be there because of the machinations of this place, but we set up and helped a reverse jobs fare and we had 5 people stand up at the beginning and one was a friend of mine who I met at Special Olympics and for, I just remember going through the process of leaving the army, becoming candidate and MP,  relentlessly redoing her CV in an effort to try and get her a job.  She eventually got a job 13 months later and she works in a toy shop in Plymouth and it absolutely transformed her life, but not only her life, but her mother and her sister who is also disabled who lives with them as well.  And I just thought if everybody did that, if we could all make that effort, we would transform our disabled communities life.  One of the key things that stands out in this report for me is about a government setting the example, so the other thing that I work on very hard here is veterans care, and people are very quick to put the Armed Forces covenant on their company logo, they are very quick to put 'disability confident'  on their company logo but unless that means something, it becomes kind of worthless and you start driving down the value of this stuff that we do.  The government can lead the way on that, 242 billion pounds a year in contracts for services in our society, imagine if they were given exclusively to companies that practice good Disability Rights, that practice equal opportunities, and you know adhere to some of the things here, you would fundamentally change the way the lives of our disabled communities in Britain today.  I think there is some really interesting recommendations in there, I would encourage you all to read it all, some stuff in their for thought that I personally had a look at and thought it might be a bit strong, but I think actually it is great that the government has got a bold vision, like any political party, right, come an election they will promise you the earth, but it is down to us now to make sure they actually deliver on that, so we shouldn't discourage that bold vision of halving the unemployment gap but the report highlights the need to take significant measures if we are really going to do that and halve the disability gap. 

I could talk about it all day long, but I don't want to bore you, so that is my view on the report.  I think all I would say one final thing is under this Prime Minister I think we have a real chance of change.  This is part of her agenda.  She gets this problem, she is entirely driven by the evidence and the data on it and I think we have a real opportunity.  Talking to George Freeman, the policy guy at No 10, this is one of her key areas and I very much applaud her reading the report and coming back to us.  (applause).

DR CAMERON: Thank you very much.  I think we are very heartened to hear that as well, and I would hope that quite quickly from the publication of are report today, that we could achieve a meeting with the Minister and discuss the recommendations and also I will be hoping that we can put together a joint motion to have back bench business debates in the House in order to make sure we keep the work high profile and on the government agenda, and I am very pleased to hear that it is a key priority that the Prime Minister is looking at so let's hear from Lord Low and then we will have a panel of speakers and questions and answers from the floor.

LORD COLIN LOW: Thank you very much, Lisa.  It is a great pleasure to be here and have the opportunity to speak and support this report.  I would like to acknowledge the work of the authors, who are too numerous to mention, but you have mentioned them by name, Lisa, so I won't repeat that, but it is a splendid effort that they have done and I particularly would like to pay tribute to the students from Kings College London who have also put along into supporting the preparation of the report.  

I would like very much, I would like to warmly welcome this initiative on the part of the all party group on disability.  All the thinking and effort that the group has put into this report is certainly a valuable contribution to halving the disability employment gap, and I am sure if either half the recommendations in the report are taken on board by the government it will make a real difference to achieving the target of halving the gap.  I think this is a splendid initiative by the all party group which demonstrates it is not just a talk shop ‑ in this case it certainly has come forward with a concrete output which is going to be important.   

Well, I won't, you will be pleased to hear I won't speak for too long because Lisa has already said half of the things I was going to say anyway, but I think we were looking at the same sources, Lisa, but I was following what you were saying very closely and I have marked the bits that you have missed out so I will say them as well.  To be serious, one point to make is that economic growth alone will not deliver the government's manifesto commitment to halve the disability employment gap.  Even on the most favourable and unrealistic assumptions, the economic growth won't do it, even on the most favourable assumptions.  The office for budget responsibility predicts that there will be half a million new jobs created between now and 2020, and even on the unrealistic assumption that disabled people took everyone of those new jobs, and that the disabled working age population didn't increase at all, the disability employment rate would only increase to 56 per cent instead of the 64 per cent that we are aiming at if we are to halve the disability employment gap.  So if the non disabled employment rate remains unchanged, the disability employment gap would fall to 24 percentage points, half of the target and short of the target by 8 percentage points, so we have to do more than just rely on economic growth.  We have to, well I will say in a minute what we have to do, but we have to look to the government to put its weight and muscle behind achieving this target, these objectives.  It won't just happen spontaneously by economic growth lifting all the votes.  I don't think we should kid ourselves that employing disabled people, especially if they are severely disabled, is easy.  It can present considerable problems and require considerable modification to existing practices.  The government has woken up to this and virtually abandoned the targets at least to reach it by 2020, they are now talking of it as being work for 10 years.  But it can be done, it is possible to employ disabled people much more fully than we do at the moment.  If you go back to World War II, when of course lots and lots of able‑bodied workers were away at the front, there was almost full employment amongst disabled people, so we ought not to forget that.  It can be done if the need or the will is there.  So, we shouldn't let the government off the hook, we shouldn't let them off the target of halving the disability employment gap.  It may take a little longer, but we should certainly keep their feet to the fire so far as the commitment to halve the gap is concerned. 

Now, the report contains a host of details, recommendations, but the strategy is that the government should use its leverage, depending on which side of Atlantic you come from, with a range of organisations in the public and private sectors to get them employing more disabled people ‑ for example if it lent on the Design Council for the creative industries, the construction industry training board and the food and drink retail federation, a lot could be done by working through their efforts to get more people into employment and up skill people.  As we have heard, in the last financial year the government spent some 242 million on purchasing goods and services which gives the government an extraordinary powerful lever in this procurement power, rather than its ability simply to fund appropriate employment support and Social Security arrangements, this gives the government an enormous opportunity to improve disabled people's job prospects by using the power of public procurement.  Employing disabled people could be made a condition of getting the contract, and that has achieved considerable benefits in the United States and I think we should use it more in this country. 

Before I finish, 2 other points of strategic importance I would like to underline.  First of all, retention:  If we focus more on retention, enabling people who become disabled while they are in work, rather than letting them go and throwing them on the scrap heap, if we make more efforts to retain people in their job and not simply try to get disabled people who are out of the workforce into the workforce, we could multiply by 4 or 5 times the number of disabled people in the work force, so that is the first point the importance of retention.  And the second point I would make, and apologies for harping on about this but it can't be said too often, Johnny, if you and your colleagues are talking with the Prime Minister and her policy advisors, I hope you will point out to them the importance of revisiting this cut which is coming in in April to the benefit, the £30 a week’s cut to those on employment and support allowances in the work activity related group.  This is not just a question ‑ this demand is not just a matter of money grabbing, it is actually pointed out that it is counter‑productive to the government's objectives of employing disabled people to cut their benefit which will dramatically reduce their opportunity to go to interviews, get the transport to interviews, maintain a phone line and broadband in order to make applications for jobs.  It is really disabling people's ability to apply for jobs and get into the work force and I really think that is something that it would be very good if the government would have a new look at.  There was a debate about it in Westminster Hall last week, I think, and there was very widespread support round the House ‑‑ Johnny, I think you were probably in the debate, you probably spoke in it.  There was very widespread support for the notion that this cut should at least be paused until the measures contained in the Green Paper had come on speed.  So anything you could do to get the government to look at this one again would be very much appreciated. 

I will stop there, just repeating the warm welcome I have given to this report, thanking and congratulate the all party group for it and wish the report well and hope that a great deal of attention is placed to its recommendations.  Thank you.  (applause).

DR CAMERON: Thank you very much Lord Low and I think those are extremely pertinent points that you raised.  I do believe that it is price Neil Gray who has led on the debate.

NEIL GRAY:  That was 2 weeks ago, last weeks was Angela Crawley brought it.

DR CAMERON: Do you have anything you wish to add to Lord Low's comments.

NEW SPEAKER: Just entirely to reiterate what he had to say.  We had support from members across the house, Labour, Conservative, members from different parties highlighted in a constructive way the reasons why the government needs to look at this issue again, and to at least pause to get the horse back in front of the cart in terms of the right way, the right timescale for implementing these changes.   We are still to see the detail on the Green Paper, we are only less than 4 months away until these cuts, the ESA, commence so there is a very narrow window in which the government can operate in order to bring about a different system before the cuts happen.

DR CAMERON: And it seems extremely important to pause, given that the research we have been undertaking and in terms of the written and oral evidence that we have, suggests that the policy is not conclusive enough for people to get into employment and stay in employment and actually given current policy trends and if things were to stay as they are just now, it would be 50 years before we halve the gap, so government obviously has to look at policy and I would suggest that to penalise vulnerable disabled people when we haven't got the policy right as yet, is very punitive and is something that I hope the government look at again. 

I'm aware we have other MPs and peers who might wish to add a comment before we move on to our expert panel.  Would you wish to say...

LORD ADDINGTON: As something of an interloper, and  someone who hasn't done any work on this, I will take the reflective glory every time!  But the main thing about all the initiatives that come here is you have an initiative, the government is very good and then forgets about it.  You must maintain the work and refer it back and make sure they come in again.  Every time you have a success and there are people in this room who have achieved those successes, it is about maintaining pressure.  Making sure that you refer them back in, making sure that even ministers get embarrassed when they have to contradict themselves!  It is true, they are vaguely human.  Now, just make sure they have to come back and make sure they are coming back and remember what they have said and what they agreed to, possibly even when they weren't minister:  It is the way the game is played:   if you have a good body of work refer back to it and make sure people say it is a good idea and then ask them why they haven't done it.  It is about maintaining pressure.

DR CAMERON: Thank you very much Lord Addington, it is a great value to have your experience and we will be very persistent in this cause any other MPs who wish to say a few words.

NEIL COYLE:  I'm on the panel for the second part, the Select Committee, Heidi and I for different parties are on the recommended select committee and specifically to this ESA issue, when the government was introducing this through the Commons, there was a commitment that the timeframe would be such that, and this is how the government got it through, got its backbenchers whipped on the basis that disabled people would lose out at the same time the new employment support was put in place.  That was the commitment, we know that is not now the process under the Green Paper, but the minister before the Select Committee last week, I think it was last week, was saying she has said she will find 120 pounds per month elsewhere to try and compensate for disabled people affected.  I personally do not believe that is possible, but she is saying to energy companies and others she is looking at other ways to try and find 120 pounds a month.  Now, people in this room will want to see how that scrolls out and make their own judgment on that, but that is a commitment, it is on the record, so please do hold the Minister to account.

DR CAMERON: Thank you very much:

NEIL GRAY:  To add to what Neil said there.  Also during the autumn statement, the Chancellor suggested there would be a 330 million‑pound package available come April and we have had discussions cross‑party on this how we tease out what that is going to look like, how it is going to work, whether there is going to be direct financial support available for people, new claimants of ESA and it is important that we keep the pressure on as the 2 Lords have very correctly outlined that we should.

KATE GREEN: I think all MPs who were in any of the debates or in your Select Committee, hiding, Neil, have heard numerous commitments now from ministers, we also heard Penny Morgan and Neil's debate a couple of weeks ago saying that the money that was saved by ESA cuts would specifically be directed into providing the employment support, so we need to track that spending and make sure that it is.

DR CAMERON: I think as we realise from the publication of OUR paper, employment support in itself is not enough to square the circle here, so these issues really have to be addressed very seriously.  So what we will do next, unless you wish to have any file comments...

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, just one really.  That is recognising that yes, the government is really well placed by virtue of its spending power, to really essentially change culture here because the maxim goes:  People follow the money.  If contracts and opportunities are to be had by those companies and organisations who are actively showing that they are disability confident themselves, then change is sure to come.  But I think, and I'm sure this will be shared by colleagues, local government is likewise well placed to set the mood music in individual towns up and down the length of the country, and I have a meeting just tomorrow with many interested parties to see how we are going to be taking this agenda forward locally, and I will be using this excellent report to do that.

DR CAMERON: That is fantastic.  Heidi, do you wish to add anything.

HEIDI  ALLEN:   How long have you got?  I suppose specifically on the ESA to start with I agree it is incredibly challenging, the timescale that Penny has set herself but I happened to believe she means it.  Whether she can deliver it practically is another debate perhaps, but do I genuinely look her in the eye and think she means what she says, that she gets that people need the 30 pounds, she knows it is not to buy a suit to go for job interviews, it is about living and turning on the heating, I think she genuinely gets that and she has set herself an ambitious target to find that money, turn every stone from different pots of budget to replace it with something.  So let's give her a chance.  If it is not there, we remind her.  And I think across all sides of the House we all do that consistently.   More generally in terms of the mood music, as Caroline was talking about, now that the Green Paper is finally here, we have all been waiting for it a very long time, I actually think it is phenomenally exciting, I do believe the government gets that it isn't the expert on this.  It doesn't have all the answers, it needs to talk to third parties and charities and disabled people and it is up to us to garner that knowledge and information and push it in.  I'm going to host in January ‑‑ the consultation finishes in February sometime ‑‑ in January a round table of all the big charities, Macmillan, Parkinsons, all the names that you know about, and we are going go through at Green Paper with a fine toothcomb.  If you want representation from the APPG, I want everyone with an opinion to go through it with a fine tooth com pull it apart and push it back to government, and I think there is an incredible window here.

DR CAMERON: That is fantastic, Heidi, and we would be very pleased to contribute.  And we also greatly value that the work we are doing is cross‑party and does include MPs from government side and that you are also pushing to make sure that people with disabilities, their needs are heard, and that we do continue to persist in terms of government policy to get the right policies, those that I would describe as first principle 'what works' policies and that is what we need to do to work together to do.

LORD COLIN LOW: There will be a joint all party group meeting at 5:00 o'clock on 31 January.  It was a suggestion from Mark Harper, who is chair of the all party group on learning disabilities, and he approached one of our co-chairs, I don't know if any other all party groups are folded in to the mix yet, but at least those 2 groups will be meeting and I'm sure if others care to come along that will be fine, 5:00 o'clock, 31 January, Secretary of State to discuss the Green Paper.

DR CAMERON: Thank you Lord Low, that is something that I will add to my diary and I would imagine that the young disabled persons' groups perhaps, Heidi, have also been informed regarding that meeting.

HEIDI ALLEN:  Where are you?  Hello... Yes we are going to invite you, don't worry, we are settling on the date but we are going to invite everyone.

LORD COLIN LOW: Well get a big room!

DR CAMERON: So fantastic, thank you and an excellent start to today's session.  And now I would like to introduce the members of the panel.  Professor Victoria Wass, who is a reader at Cardiff Business School and one of the report authors.  Thank you for coming.  And Philip, you are also going to sit on the panel Philip Connolly who is policy and development manager of Disability Rights UK.  Jane Cordell, founder of Get Equal and also a contributor to the inquiry.  Kevin Millin, quantity surveyor and founder of Disabled People in Construction and a contributor to our inquiry.  And I do hope I haven't missed anyone out, but you have been introduced earlier, so I have been asked to remind people if you try not to speak until you have the microphone it means that everything will go smoothly and we will be able to take some questions.  Each of the panel are going to say a wiew words, just to introduce themselves and your thoughts on the paper, and then we will kick off with our question and answer session.  So if we start at this end, thank you very much, if you can introduce who you are and what your thoughts were on the paper. 

JACQUELINE WINSTANLEY:  My name is Jacqueline Winstanley, I am a disabled entrepreneur, my business is universal inclusion and I chair health forums.  I contributed to the report, I suppose what I would like to say in response to the report is this has made people visible.  It is a challenging and comprehensive report with excellent prospects in terms of responses from government that will understand the way disabled people run their working lives.  And if actions will give us positive criteria to work to going forward.  Thank you.

DR CAMERON: Thank you very much, I am sorry I didn't have you on my list.

JANE CORDELL: Checking sound.  My name is Jane Cordell, as well as running Getting Equal I'm a director of a disabled led coaching and training development company called Results CIC , which is a community interest company.  We cope and train people who are marginalised and share all the deaf and disability arts in Liverpool and I am a trustee of Manchester Deaf Centre.  I think the report is admirable and goes a long way to, as Lord Low said, boldly addressing the issue.  There is one word that stands in our way 'enforcement'. 

NEIL COYLE:  I am the Labour MP and on the Work and Pension Committee and it is great to see so many of my former colleagues attending today.  Also, welcome the report, thank the authors and Disability Rights UK in particular.   I was one of the MPs that welcomed the government commitment which we believed was 5 years and would have meant a million additional jobs for disabled people.  The Green Paper talks about a 10 year vision rather than 5 years but the minister has said actually they are not talking now about halving the gap within 10 years.  There has been slip on the government's commitment which is very frustrating, to say the least, and not least because it follows a 6 year period where we have seen damage done.  So we were told Remploy closures would mean more disabled people in work.  That hasn't delivered.  We were told the government accepted the outcome of work capability assessment reviews, accepted recommendations that have not been implemented.  We are now told there will be more disability employment advisors after 20 per cent were lost in the last Parliament.  We were told Access to Work again will be better advertised in particular, after it has fallen since its 2009/10 peak under the last Labour government and all this doesn't happen, you know, in isolation.  The context is disabled people losing in other sources of support and we heard about ESA today but also through Disability Living Allowance and the ability to access Motability to support disabled people in work in particular.  It would have been better if the government had stuck to its initial commitment, there would have been more support to do that but we shouldn't lose sight of the context.  More positively, there is also through some of the discussion of the Green Paper, I hope we will see targets develop, targets around disabled people overall, targets across government, not just in any one department as talked about in the report and not just in procurement but other policy areas, and targets for specific groups of disabled people, targets for specific areas of the country, and targets to use different system better, including Access to Work and targets that don't lose sight of the fact that government has, does have an ambition apprenticeship agenda, giving young disabled people in particular better chance at the outset of their work in life, will turn things around longer term.

DR CAMERON: Thank you so much, Neil, and it is great to have your experience here today.

PROFESSOR VICTORIA WASS:  I'm one of the authors of the report and I wanted to talk briefly about 2 things in the report that I don't think have been spoken about so far.  That is institutional disablism and measurement.  Institutional disablism might be one of the strong points that Johnny Mercer talked about and maybe I didn't agree with but this is a big and enduring gap and I think maybe it deserves strong language, but what do we mean by it?  Well by disablism we mean discrimination against disabled people, which leads to lack of opportunity.  What do we mean by institutional?  We mean it is routine, custom and practice.  It is not recognised, something inadvertent, it is unconscious.  It happens anyway and it is not found.  And why do we think this occurs?  Disability is treated differently under the Equality Act.  Whereas you have the same treatment for sex and race, what the Equality Act requires is different treatment for disability, for disabled people and I don't think employers quite get that.  It is the failure to treat disabled people differently, so that they have the same opportunity that amounts to discrimination.  There is a lack of data on disability and I raised it at the work and pensions meeting and it was a bit of a boring point but it is essential and it is also the lack of measurement is another symptom of institutional disablism.  It is not recognised, it is not measured so it is not found, if it is not found it is not managed.  I think in order to challenge some of these institutional customs and practices, you start challenging it by measuring disability.  Once you have measured disability you can set target for it, you can plan to reach that target and you can say how long it will take you to reach that target.   You can have a target that, once you start measuring disability an organisation can find out it has 2 per cent of disabled employees within the workplace.  It can set itself a target based on the fact that 17 per cent of the working age population are disabled, it can set itself a higher target and it can measure itself getting towards that target and that is where it links in with procurement.  If you are going to require organisations to meet their targets, they have to start by measuring disability within the workplace.  It has parallels with Macpherson.  Macpherson found institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police Service, what would you suggest?  He said you have to start measuring it, exposing it and you have to set plans and I have to see how you are meeting those plans.  And I think a lot of this APPG report hangs on measuring disability within organisations, not just workforces in business networks and government is a big procurer, can start insisting on that measurement.

DR CAMERON: Thank you very much.  Last but definitely not least

NEW SPEAKER: My name is Kevin Millin.  I have been in construction 19 years, I am in a unique position of being in of the only industries that has one of the biggest spends with the government and the fact that we have a very, very big short fall on staff, especially on the professional basis coming up.  Background, I have been working across the world in different industries – Brazil - always in construction, Caribbean, America, and obviously starting off in Plymouth as well, which is where I first got into construction.  We recently did a report that looked into the problems that we have, we have a massive shortfall of professions.  In the next 10 years we have a minimum of 15,000 people retiring and only 3,000 coming through to replace them.  In construction only 5 per cent are disabled which on an industry our size cannot be right.  We have unique opportunities because the work we do with the government, the social housing, planning, schools, and the use of things like the Hinckley power station, all this things can be targeted earlier on so we can get disabled people in there, using things like PQQ requirements for the government, as in setting standards and amounts with the amount of people to be used on projects, and it is exciting and very large, so we can address a lot of things.

DR CAMERON: Thank you so much.  That is another key issue that the report highlights, is that we should be looking at sectors of development and making sure that people with disability have access to those particular employments and training activities.  So, last, definitely not least, is Philip Connolly from Disability Rights UK who has very much been guiding the report from infancy until its publication this morning so a very warm welcome to you, Philip today.

PHILIP CONNOLLY: This report is unusual.  This report is not about the benefit system, it is not really about the back to work system, it is about opportunities in the mainstream economy, and how do those opportunities arise and how disabled people can be involved in creating those opportunities.  It is an aspirational agenda; it takes the government at its word that it wants to cut the disability employment gap by half, but it offers the government a blueprint for doing that but at the moment we are not offered the strategy for doing that.  I think there is a big deficiency within the Green Paper and that is a deficiency of the absence of the department for business, energy and industrial strategy.  There is a lot in there about the Department for Health, almost nothing in there about the future industrial strategy.  I would like to see this Green Paper inform not just the Department for Work and Pensions, but that industrial strategy from the department of business, energy and industrial strategy.  It is called Ahead of the Ark because it addresses the near future, the now and the near future, how do we go between the 2, and so, what I would like, we will talk at the very end about how this report will get used, but I really believe that when we try to look at how the government is currently spending its money, how it is supporting business start up, tech start up, new innovations and inventions that help disabled people to overcome barrier to the Labour market themselves, we found deficiencies in all forms of government support, as Victoria said, we found the institutional disablism that Victoria has described.  We found major institutions of government spending huge sums of money like the Business Bank, or Innovate UK, not able to show that their services are of value to disabled people.  I would like to say to all MPs:  We can't be cutting people's benefits if we are not offering them the opportunity to get employment.  We can't be looking for disincentives in the benefit system when there are disincentives in the economy that are worse.  We have to shift the focus and start looking at the economy that is truly inclusive for disabled people thank you very much.

DR CAMERON: Thank you very much.  Now I would like to take questions from the audience today and thanks for attending.  Lady at the front...

FROM THE FLOOR: Hello, my name is Katherine Hughes and I am representing the dyslexia adult network and Achievability.   I thought the comments that Victoria made about the need to measure disability in organisations is very important and that is part of my question about how robust will the disability confidence scheme be, both on level 1, getting the right people into business, and level 2, keeping and developing people.  How will this government monitor the effectiveness of that scheme?

DR CAMERON: Thank you very much.  We will take maybe 2 or 3 questions at one time and let the panel respond.

FROM THE FLOOR: My name is Marianne Turner‑Hawes, I am a Director of a disabled person run business in Northamptonshire.  We contributed evidence to the report.  I wanted to make a point really about the procurement processes both at a local level and at a national level, and really offer an idea, a suggestion, that not only those procurement processes should be encouraging existing businesses to show, to demonstrate that they are employing disabled people, but also the procurement processes should be open and targeting disabled person led businesses who can help.  We are here, we are all lined up and we are ready to help.  Not just the charities but disabled persons and businesses.  We are ready to help tackle this problem.  Many of us are overlooked when it comes to putting forward our ideas and developing work.  We have worked specifically around self‑employment, it is very hard for to us get those ideas forward at a local level and a regional level, so when looking at the procurement, I suppose the question to yourselves is how can you ensure that those processes involve people who are disabled as individuals, carers and disabled led businesses, because it is a bit like a football match, when you are the competitors:  If you are supporting disabled persons run businesses you are already helping someone to work as well as they might help other disabled people to work.

DR CAMERON: Thank you very much.  And the third question from the first tranche.

NEW SPEAKER: I'm from... [inaudible].  Representing the dyslexia.  My question is interleaved with what everyone has said.  [inaudible]  There seems to be very little emphasis on the very prevalent disabilities that are not within the health framework, in particular dyslexia and SPLDs and why we are not in any way saying that all the things we talked about are not important.  We are talking about a proportion of the population that comes to 10 per cent, more than 10 per cent, and these people have real skills and may be neglected and can offer a lot of help to our economy.

DR CAMERON: There is an extremely important point, just last month I went to visit a local business who look at technological advancements and what they were making for people with dyslexia which pretty much help them to overcome difficulties in the workplace and make life so much easier, so that there is a lot in terms of the technological advancements that we should champion.  But the questions to the panel:  Who would like to answer the first question, which is about the robustness of the disability confidence scheme and data collection?  Anyone have comments on that.

NEIL COYLE:   More of a comment than anything else.  I have been sceptical about some of the targeting and engagement because once you strip out those already engaged or disability organisations there is less evidence to show what the confidence programme is achieving, but the Select Committee put questions to the department about this and there is apparently a plan to have a formal accreditation system for disability confidence to make it more independent, and I think it is right that people feed into what that looks like and who runs it, it will be independent of the Department for Work And pensions.

DR CAMERON: Thank you very much.  Phil, you mentioned something about disability confident this morning in another event I attended.

PHILIP CONNOLLY: There is a major problem with disability confident and why I believe it will plateau at a very low level of participation, even though employer engagement is really needed, sorely needed.  That is there are no incentives in the scheme.  There is an encouragement to move from module 1 to module 2, because you would lose module 1 status if you don't get module 2.  But it is not till module 3 there is an external challenge, it is all self‑ accredited up to then.  There are no rewards.  That is why procurement is so important.  Why do we create incentives through commissioning incentives and supply chain management?  To get the good practice we want?  At the moment disability confident is not going to, sadly I believe not going to achieve very much at all.  And yet, it could offer so much if there were incentives built into it.

NEIL COYLE:   It is unusual for me to be devil's advocate but I think one of the things I try to emphasise is employee loyalty to individual companies.  So the benefits of having a disabled workforce it not just better representation and community, it is that many disabled employees stay with firms longer so there are lower recruitments and other costs, I think that disability confident is meant to be reporting that.  Johnny is perhaps in a better place to say.  Trying to be devils advocate.

JOHNNY MERCER MP: I recognise what you are saying.  It has its limitations absolutely, by reaching that plateau and not having those incentives that are needed.  But I do think it has got people quite effectively talking about this problem in places, certainly in my own experience in Plymouth and that for some is a start.  You are right, I don't think it is going to deliver us to this Nirvana, but I don't think also that it is quite as, I understand what you are saying I don't feel it is quite as useless as that.  I think we do need to do more however.

DR CAMERON: Actually, I held my own disability confident event just a couple of months ago in the constituency, and it was a successful event but I think again, when it comes to the data which is the other part of the question, I wasn't very clear as to how to follow it up in terms of how successful it had actually been in employing anyone with a disability and encouraging employers at that stage.   Did you want to add something.

JANE CORDELL: To mention the issue, what is the data you are looking at.  As someone working regularly with people who are disabled, sometimes they only declare theirs if they want to come on a course.  So they run courses for employers, for example, the University of Manchester and John Moore University, they have to say they are disabled but they often don't want to say that so we have to look at the issue of disclosure.  I am sure the APPG, Kate Nash, there is a lot of subtle issues around disclosure, we can't really start measuring until we resolve this sort of vicious circle issue of people maybe who have an unseen disability not wanting to say.  Sorry enforcement, you have to change the rules.  We got people to stop smoking in public by enforcing.

DR CAMERON: There are issues round about disclosure and confidentiality that will have to be very closely addressed.   The second question was about entrepreneurship.  Businesses led by disabled people and actually the encouragement within the marketplace, within the procurement sector, does anyone wish to comment on that from the panel?

NEW SPEAKER: I think that is a really good question.  Being a disabled entrepreneur often faced with scenarios like this, it is a two‑way street really.  It is essential that we do get equality of access within the procurement process, but alongside that we have to put in effective support.  So it is not good enough to say there is a procurement target to engage disabled people in that process, if the disabled person doesn't have the effective back up and support to enable them to do it.  So I think moving this forward, as the report states we really need to look at the current support mechanisms out there, such as Access to Work, the streams that we were, what was business innovation skills and the new department to ensure the target around procurement, if we do go down that route and it is a good route to go down, has sufficient back up to follow it.

DR CAMERON: I wholeheartedly agree with what you are saying.  The issues that the questioner raised, because often I think there is a kind of blind spot in that people assume that individuals with disability will be automatically employees when we are looking at this question and actually, we also have to think about these issues holistically and people with disabilities as employers and you know, that is a huge part of the progress that we require to make, both attitudinally but also in terms of procurement and policy, and our understanding.  The final question was about technology, and specifically looking at advances that can help individuals perhaps with dyslexia and other such conditions into the workplace.  Does anyone feel able to contribute?

NEW SPEAKER: We looked into technology and construction because it made such big leaps in the last 5 or 10 years.  One of the main things in construction is retaining professionals.  Quite often within construction people became disabled while employed and therefore quite often leave the industry, so what we tried to look at was people who were fully trained, who had all the experience, but trying to retain them within the industry.  So we looked at things like take for example architect, structural engineers being on site.  Obviously they couldn't get on to site any more but what we found was by introducing place, time, sector we could deal with more problems quicker than having to wait for 2 weeks till everyone got on to site.  You can say this is my problem, this isn't working and the engineer could come back that day with a solution, instead of having to wait 2 weeks.  That was a big leap.  On the actual physical working side of things one of the biggest problems in the past is noise and the effect on deafness and losing people that have become deaf on site because they couldn't be matched to health and safety requirements.  We looked at the visual alarms and also the use of key fobs like when you go to a restaurant, it vibrates when you are required, so when they come to site they have the key fob in their pocket and have the visual alarm and the vibratng alarm negating health and safety issues and there is a lot more as we go on through, it is getting more and more easy to make people still employable instead of losing all that experience and putting them back out into a market where they are not going to earn as much money as they have been on.

DR CAMERON: That is where I think it is key when we look at innovation, that we think about how to benefit people into the workplace, particularly individuals with disabilities such as dyslexia that the questioner raised and to think about how key innovations can actually, in terms of technology, in terms of development and science, et cetera, can actually overcome many of those hurdles.

NEW SPEAKER: One of the other things we looked at was the Access to Work situation.  Currently how it works is that you employ someone who is disabled, then you have got to get everything for the other things you require, then you claim the money back.  What we found is if someone, even before they went for an interview for a job, if they were assessed for what they would need to be able to do that job and went to that interview with a letter saying ,"I need a special chair ‑ it's sorted" whatever they required to be able to do the job, if they said this has already been arranged should I be successful, the mindset of the employer was a lot  more "I won't have that initial hassle" ‑ it pulls them down mark rather than turning up and saying you are on a level playing field, we know you have everything set up.

DR CAMERON: So again, thinking about employers and their, I suppose, what they see in terms of employing people... Did you want to add something quickly

PROFESSOR VICTORIA WASS: One thing about measurements.  I quite understand disability is associated with negative factors and that is why people don't want to disclose, but you need to think about how you define disability, how you define disability, that determines how many people you count as disabled.  Once you set a target you will get all sorts of gaming about that target so before you go down that measurement and target route, which is the route you need to go down, there needs to be careful thoughts about how disability is defined. Something to say on dyslexia.  I have a child that is dyslexic, very bright, very articulate but with the best will in the world he won't get his English GCSEs, he won't get on an apprenticeship scheme and not able to get into college and the point you made about technology, he it is not allowed to take the technology in to the exam to help him get that GCSE.  In the meeting we had this morning it came up about support in school and that is where it needs to start because when employers are faced with people with low confidence and low skills, that makes it almost impossible for them to start dealing with the disability, it has to start in the school.

DR CAMERON: I totally agree with that and I think it is a good point that you raise. 

NEIL COYLE:  It is worrying.  The disability and Equality Act should allow your son's thing to be taken into the exam.

NEW SPEAKER: You can apply for it to be there, you get addtional time.

PROFESSOR VICTORIA WASS: But you can't take a spell checker in.

DR CAMERON: We will take that point up at the end individually with you, but I think again that shows the hurdles that people face and there is almost, in addition to all the hurdles we spoke about a postcode lottery regarding this as well, that undermines equality rights across the UK.  So some further questions please.  I am aware of time.  Gentlemen there at the side.

FROM THE FLOOR: Hi, I am Tom Hadleigh from the employment and federation.  We are a business organisation, we did a poll earlier this year which showed that 30 per cent of our members who recruited said the employers they work with are definitely more open to hire people with disabilities than they were a few years ago.  There is some progress being made but we are starting to see some progress which is encouraging.  We heard about in the introductory presentation, getting trade bodies to take accountability for their own sector.  That is how we can make real progress.  The question is how do we engage more employers and what are the challenges we have?  Also like the BME agenda, hiring older workers et cetera, so part of the approach is to drive a debate with employers around inclusive hiring around the inclusion agenda, and to use that as a way of obviously pushing disability ‑‑ or will that dilute the message?  It a genuine question about how we approach employers around this agenda.

DR CAMERON: The gentlemen at the back.

Right at the back.

FROM THE FLOOR: Andrew [inaudible].

DR CAMERON: Can you repeat where you are from, we didn't hear it at the front.

NEW SPEAKER: Andrew Frank, vocational rehabilitation association, the body that reflects mostly health professionals who are particularly interested in helping people into work.  Bearing in mind that we have [inaudible] in the UK, and the problems that are very self evident throughout NHS, recognising the appropriate trained health professionals firstly help for people going through unemployment through proper self‑confidence boosting, appropriate training, exposure to role models, educational models have been dealt with, secondly through facilitating job reretention and avoiding job loss and helping people longterm out of work into work.  Now if health professionals do have this role, and the National Health Service now is struggling very severely in both primary care and secondary care and  [inaudible] if there is political will to say we are going to have to target services to facilitate converting benefit recipient eens to taxpayers.

DR CAMERON: A very interesting question there and I think there is a gentleman at the front who has been waiting patiently.

FROM THE FLOOR: My name is Philip Barton, I was the very first wheelchair user ever to be appointed by the Secretary of State to determine appeals on the planning legislation.  I had to leave that job in 2010 because of my health, partly because all of my support needs were not met.  Since then I have been working my way back up to full time hours and I have been appointed as a reporter for the Scottish government, which is the same job except in Scotland.  But I have been astounded at the treatment I have received from DWP, and this is a matter for the appropriate Select Committee perhaps.  The people dealing with the Access to Work support in particular don't seem to have any idea even of the basics of business.  For example, they said I didn't qualify for Access to Work because my turnover was too high.  When I, sorry, too low.  But when I questioned that, they equated turnover to the amount of income, so the 2 are completely different.  So my turn over was high enough for me to qualify for Access to Work support.  Also, they seemed to be bemused and refused support because anything might happen in between me contacting them and the job starting.  So, they weren't able to start the application process immediately, but what they did do was send me for a work capability assessment; what they did do was start a fraud and error investigation against me.  Surely that is a waste of time and money.   I have been working hard to get back to full time hours and I expect to be supported, not punished.  But I think it is a situation which only really affects a relatively small number of people because so many disabled people are forced to go back into work.  I'm choosing to do that and I think the system doesn't really, isn't really set up to help people in that situation.

DR CAMERON: Thank you very much, and it is very important to hear your own personal experience, and if we can take some responses from the panel quickly and then we will have a couple of final questions before we just sum up the day today.  So the first question was about trade bodies and how we really harness the involvement of trade bodies and employers and making sure that employers feel fully supported in this agenda.  So, does anyone have any comments.  Heidi, you have moved.  Just to confuse me.

HEIDI ALLEN:  I often find myself on the wrong side of the building! Just on that, because I wanted come in on the general disability employment question on the last group because it is all related and how we make the disability confident scheme work.  Well I think part of the Green Paper they are looking at that again, but what, because I had a disability event in my constituency not long ago, and I found that I am turning into Cilla Black, and I am finding hungry employers who I can talk to and individuals who are looking for work and my office are getting on with it, match‑making, so we are going to have follow up events in a more true sense of a jobs fair with all the employers that we have that have expressed interest and are hungry to do it with job seekers.  I think that is what has become clear to me, this is a really personal thing.  I am not sure government can fix it, actually, at a national top down level.  I think there needs to be much more personal handling, using third party organisations, whether trade bodies or charities or mentoring organisations, direct commissioning, which is something I know Philip has strong views on and I think you need to make that happen locally.  One thing that really excites me, I have a devolution bill going through in Cambridgeshire at the moment and one of the devolution powers being passed down, as well as the usual stuff around infrastructure and housing is DWP roll‑out and disability employment.  And I think that is the point.  This needs to be local passion, local relationships getting right people round the table and making it happen locally, yes the government can encourage, ensure there is a great website about every question and answer employers ever might want to ask about how to make it happen and what is Access to Work, what does PIP mean, but the more I look at it I think it is going to be local ownership.  The government can set parameters but MPs and local representatives will need to drive this locally.

DR CAMERON: Much more input from MPs, local organisations, but government also setting policy.

HEIDI ALLEN:  And targets, but we need local knowledge, local job market and local employers.

DR CAMERON: I have to say I think that employers do need further support, and I have heard back from a number of employers who attended my own event who said yes we are interested, but we still had a number of internal barriers to overcome to get to that point and I think Neil wanted to add something. 

NEIL COYLE:  I think the government need to stop rolling back where good practice does exist.  When I was working at the Disability Rights Commission, one of the core groups of people who contacted the Helpline were employers and they were looking at what do I need to do, how can I employ?...   To be fair someone phoned to find out how to fire people, which wasn't the job of the Commission, but it did happen and we have seen the Equality and Human Rights Commission that runs the Helpline pared back, so the Helpline is much, much more limited in outsourcing and doesn't have the same expertise across all of the additional work the Equality and Human Rights Commission does have to do, but there used to be the practice development team who went out there, worked with employers, identified good practice, took it to bodies like the Federation of Small Businesses, or the British Chamber of Commerce and got them to roll‑out that good practice through  their network and sadly we have seen a lot of that rolled back.  Which is why the FSB was represented at commissioner level on the DRC and I don't think that is still the case today.  So the government has an absolutely critical role to play and should stop undermining where good practice exists.

DR CAMERON: Promoting good practice and making sure that we are not rolling back where that exists but we are actually putting more resources into it, which is the next point, the second question was about health professionals and I think we are very keen not to pathologise people as such who have disabilities trying to get back into work, but the paper does call for much more individual support for people and I wonder if anyone in the panel wants pick up that point in the type of individualised support packages that might be helpful.  Did you want to do that Phil, put you on the spot...

PHILIP CONNOLLY: There are some issues that the report doesn't look at in detail that is required.  I have always felt that one of the problems is that we haven't got the right commissioning strategy.  The last time the commissioning strategy was looked at was by Lord Freud in 2007 and it we are still looking to that report.  Since then, we have uncovered a lot of the problems in commissioning, we have found that for example when providers go to the financial market to borrow money against future job outcomes they then have to recoup that money, they have to manage their cashflow, so in order to do that they charge management fees down the supply chain and each time that happens, it extracts value from the claimant, it extracts the value of what the claimant can obtain in effective employment support.  So what happens is the claimant ends up being parked because they can't command enough support to make a difference to their prospects of getting a job.  What we need to do, I believe, is to go to individuals, get the individual to commission their employment support, within a guidance, with a framework, but in a way that would actually allow them to buy a wider range of support than they can currently, than is currently on offer.  It might be peer to peer support, a job coach with intelligence in the local Labour market, it might be mentoring and I believe that way we can give them a card charged with electronic money, we can monitor their transactions, we can see they are using the support they are being given, we can how it is being effective.   Providers, the government, and the claimants can all go online and find out the most effective way they can purchase the support .  In this way I believe the combination of individual commissioning and transparency of data and big data sets will drive effective change and I do think that we need, the report doesn't look at commissioning, but I do believe that that is what we have got to do.  That is the direction we should go in and we should open up the market by giving the individual the opportunity to elect, still obtain employment support from the prime provider if they want, but they could instead have an individual budget and commission employment support themselves so these 2 things could work in competition with each other and the market could drive the best outcomes.

DR CAMERON: That is very helpful and it made me think actually about the system that is currently operating in terms of individuals purchasing their care packages and deciding what best meets their own needs.  So I think that is happening in other areas of government work and it is perhaps something we can transfer across.  The gentlemen there, I think, you know that also goes some way to answer your point about Access to Work support has not been assisting people and actually it has been failing individuals in some cases as you highlighted.  And the last question of today goes to the lady at the front who has been waiting extremely patiently and thank you for your patience there.

FROM THE FLOOR: Thank you very much.  My name is Helen Chaiter, I am part of the LLDD at the Law Society, that stands for the Lawyers Disabled Division.  I have sat on the panel and Philip very kindly allowed me to do that when Lord Low was unwell and I sat with Baroness Hollins and met Baroness Uddin.  I found that extremely helpful.  I'm actually an Associate of the trust institute of legal executives and I hold a qualifying law degree and I have helped various people through corporate experience and have been able to speak for parents and young people who needed support in various way:  Unfortunately, I have noted 2 or 3 very sad things during the course of my own seeking employment.  The first thing I noted is the issue which was raised by Professor Wass very carefully around what is disability and disclosure and how negative that is, and when you disclose how people actually almost treat you like disclosure is a dirty word and you have something to hide or you have something to be ashamed of.  The second thing is volunteering.   I do lots and lots of volunteering.  I must belong to indirectly and directly 12 different charities; I sit on lots of legal entities and boards and commission groups and I have met lots of MPs and been very fortunate enough to do internships in MPs office and been part of Parliament as well so I have been very lucky but however, whenever I asked for a paid role I seem to be met with some form of austerity budget, cost restraint, cost adjustment, can't compete with it, can't do it, cannot commend it and to the point where I asked one volunteer organisation that I had been quite attached to for quite some time ‑ could they actually fund me, employ me, and the answer was:  We do not have a budget yet.  And yet in a previous meeting they spoke of a budget of 50,000 pounds they held and I am not the only person to say this.   There are lots of are students that come to the LDD at the Law Society, when I sit on the committee, and they point out that when they make disclosure they do not fit the criteria, and I myself found that when I didn't disclose I was more accepted than when I did disclose.

DR CAMERON: I have been given words that the next group are hoping to move into the room.  So thank you very much.  What I want to do is to say that yes, I think in terms of disclosure and data collection, there is a lot that will have to be done in answer to your question I would like to thank the panel that we have had today, thank all of the participants, we will be having a  follow‑up meeting and we hope to meet with the Minister very soon to discuss the recommendations of the report and to take this forward, because it is a cross‑party report signed by MPs from 7 parties, and we are very, very keen that the practical and pragmatic recommendations that are made take us forward, and that also it helps the government to achieve their aims and we make sure it is a collective force for equality and inclusion within the workplace right across the UK, so thank you for your participation today and please disseminate the report as widely as you can because we want to gather a lot of momentum behind it.