DR UK demands set targets for disabled people’s employment in industrial strategy response

Wed,12 April 2017
News Education

Disability Rights UK response to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy consultation “Building our Industrial Strategy”

April 2017

Key recommendations to government

  • Government should respond positively to the recommendations of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Disability’s report ‘Ahead of the Arc’  - to significantly improve opportunities for disabled people to work in growth sectors of the economy and to be self employed if that is their wish
  • Government should set targets for disabled people’s employment in new infrastructure envisaged in the National Infrastructure Plan
  • Equality should be seen as a core ‘pillar’ of industrial strategy and there should be an equalities impact assessment of the proposals
  • The Department for Business should ensure its business loans, research grants and other investments are targeted to benefit disabled people
  • The Department for Business should have close joint working links at all levels with the Office for Disability Issues.


Disability Rights UK is a national charity. We are disabled people leading change, working for equal participation for all. We work across public policy, across all types of experience of disability and in partnership with sister organisations in the devolved nations across the UK.

We are very glad to have the opportunity to comment on the Industrial Strategy consultation and have also welcomed the chance to talk with BEIS officials on this. 

The significance of disability as an issue for the industrial strategy

The Equality and Human Rights Commission benchmarked the experiences of disabled people when it published  “Being disabled in the United Kingdom” in April 2017 (ref 1). The report concluded: “We are calling for a new national focus on disability rights so that disabled people are no longer treated as second class citizens.”

The UK is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People and under Article 4 committed itself to the protection and promotion of disabled people’s rights in all programmes and policies.

Section 149 of the 2010 Equality Act requires that all public authorities or individuals discharging the responsibilities of a public body should a) eliminate discrimination b) advance equality of opportunity and c) foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t. Sub section 3 includes a requirement to take steps to ensure people with a protected characteristic take part in public life and sub section 4 refers specifically to disability.

Question 1

Does this document identify the right area of focus…?

The Industrial Strategy Green Paper makes no reference to equalities or to the protected characteristics such as disability. The only reference to “equalising” is across regions and not across demographic groups or across people - as legislation requires. Despite disabled people being the largest demographic group not economically active there is no reference to them or the steps that will specifically address their economic exclusion. This is a significant omission given the Government’s commitment to halving the disability employment gap and to disabled people as contributors to the UK’s economy: a White Paper is expected on this from DWP in the Summer. There is a great opportunity to ‘join up’ these 2 initiatives, from BEIS and DWP, to ensure that disabled people have the opportunity to become entrepreneurs, to work in growth areas of the economy and otherwise to contribute to the UK’s future economic success.

Omitting disabled people from the paper on industrial strategy also compounds their exclusion and could feed into a toxic narrative of developments concerning disabled people and economic participation. This narrative currently starts with their benefits being cut (such as the ESA WRAG component cut which has taken effect this month), proceeds with a decline in the level of investment in back to work support (ref 2) and ends with their exclusion from economic policy e.g. the failure of the national infrastructure plan to reference disabled people.

This isn’t simply potentially illegal but represents a failure to utilise the resourcefulness of disabled people in economically productive lives or as participants in a really productive economy.

We do not accept that this situation is the Prime Minister’s intention; in her foreword to the document she writes, “it is a plan for a stronger, fairer Britain that works for everyone not just the privileged few.” Disabled people now need to see the fairness she offered in the foreword.


The White Paper should be the subject of an equality impact assessment.

Question 2

Are the ten pillars the right ones …If not what areas are missing?

Diversity offers strength whether it is as metals combining to form tougher alloys, new life forms pioneering more advanced evolution or the diversity of thought processes that bring new perspectives on problems and hence better solutions. The sheer diversity of our country offers endless opportunities for entrepreneurial collaboration or greater creativity but where are the policies that underpin this? Where are these policies specifically with respect to disabled people?

The current Green Paper is too reliant on enabling those already economically active to be even more active e.g. supporting more PhD students to study STEM subjects. However, there is another approach too. This would focus on widening economic participation e.g. from amongst the 4.6 million disabled people and people with long-term health conditions who are out of work (cited in the DWP Green Paper Improving Lives) and instead enable a twin track approach offering more people a future.

Recommendation 2

Diversity and equalities should feature as a pillar of equal merit to all other identified pillars

Question 3

Are the right central government and local institutions in place to deliver?

The answer is clearly NO. The Government has created a new department but it has produced a policy disconnect with respect to the economic participation of disabled people.

Recommendation 3

The Office for Disability Issues should have close ongoing joint working relationships within the new BEIS department and that involvement should be at all levels of BEIS.

During 2016 the ALL Party Parliamentary Party Group on Disability ran an inquiry (ref 3)  into the Government’s manifesto commitment to halving the disability employment gap. The then Business Minister for BIS, Anna Soubry MP wrote to the inquiry and in her letter revealed the absence of baseline monitoring by disability of the grants made available by the Business Bank in respect of business start up or by Innovate UK in respect of tech start up. This lack of monitoring means that these major delivery arms of BEIS are unable to document or even prove their value to disabled entrepreneurs or inventors. This omission is compounded by the fact that the outsourced business support service appears largely unaware of additional Government support to disabled people starting businesses such as Access to Work, the National Enterprise Allowance or issues connected to reasonable adjustments or the value of networking disabled people if they wish so that they might facilitate the exchange of business information, business skills or business leads.

The APPG on Disability inquiry also looked at and found deficiencies in the practices of business associations such as the CBI, FSB, British Chambers of Commerce etc whose business networks are failing to be inclusive of disabled business people.

Recommendation 4

The Government should respond positively and accept the recommendations flowing from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Disability Report “Ahead of the Arc” launched in parliament on December 7th 2016.

Recommendation 5

A  Government minister in BEIS should have ministerial responsibilities for both liaising with ODI/DWP but also performance with respect to equalities of all delivery organisations, grants, loans, export credits etc funded by BEIS.

Question 5

What should be the priority areas for science research and industrial investment?

Whilst current identified priorities are important there ought to be specific funding streams that allow for new practices and technologies (where needed) to be developed and commercialised that support disabled people to overcome barriers to the labour market. Such a funding stream should allow for the impact of new practices such as agile management to be assessed as well as approaches to work e.g. whereby the world of work fits the person rather than the person having to fit the job, as is the norm at present.

Question 10  

What more can we do to improve (basic) skills?

Disability Rights UK receives a grant from DfE which us used to promote good practice in skills to employment to range of key organisations, to advise and inform disabled people about opportunities and to advise the Government on steps needed to close the disability skills gap. We offer the following headline recommendations:

  • Extend the flexibility in entry criteria to apprenticeships, already agreed by Government for people with learning difficulties – who, for instance, no longer need to have GCSE Mathematics and English – to all disabled people, since others may have missed out on education (for instance, because of hospital stays); and also offer other flexibilities to the advantage of people with fluctuating health conditions and other impairments, for instance to complete apprenticeships, internship or traineeships part-time over a longer period
  • Set minimum accessibility standards for those on the transition year
  • Set safeguards around inclusive teaching practices and provide access to advocacy support to bring complaints over failure to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled university students

Question 14

Update skills throughout their working lives

Disability Rights UK hosts a disability and skills unit funded by DfE. The unit provides advice to stakeholders including colleges, employers, the Government and others; and publishes a suite of materials to encourage and support disabled learners to acquire skills. Last year we launched the reskilling guide called "Get back to where we do belong" to help newly disabled people to make decisions on their employment futures and acquire the skills to return to their jobs or to return to the labour market (ref 4).

Disability Rights UK holds the view that up-skilling is best incentivised through promoting the opportunities it brings in the job market. The APPG on Disability report “Ahead of the Arc” also examined growth sectors of the economy and recommended linking Government support to these growth sectors (eg to address future skills shortages) to requirements on them to   actively promote inclusive recruitment and retention practices.  

Question 16

Local infrastructure

Infrastructure has been traditionally viewed as the outcome of engineering and construction projects but recognition of the importance of broadband coGet back to where we do belongnnectivity has no doubt shifted the focus to the significance of digital infrastructure. This in turn starts to make it easier for national infrastructure to have a local dimension. The question then arises, if national investment could favour local delivery then could it not also favour an excluded demographic group such as disabled people? An example of what that infrastructure might look like would be an asset exchange whereby disabled people were given automatic registration to an asset inventory so that they could obtain access to under-utilised accessible equipment, buildings or expertise for the purposes of learning skills or entrepreneurial activity. A potentially vital dividend from such an asset exchange would be in helping disabled people with bridging social capital and connecting them to resources outside of their own community. 

Question 22

Scaling up

It is possible to link the aspiration of increasing the capacity of businesses to the work aspirations of unemployed disabled people. The following example is intended to illustrate possibilities in business models but the key point is that innovation is required at a systems level. Seeing businesses as existing within an eco-system of inputs and outputs may offer the opportunity to address more than one problem. Many SMEs struggle to respond to new business because they are already engaged on delivering contracted work when an enquiry comes in. However, if a social firm (where disabled people make up a majority of employees but perform equal work for equal pay as their non-disabled co-workers) operated a call centre and could offer an outsourced sales and marketing function to the SME then a standardised response could be sent to maintain a potential customer’s interest until their enquiry could be responded to. In such a way the SME grows its business turnover whilst the disabled person obtains appropriate work to apply for.

Question 23

Innovation through public procurement

The industrial strategy signals the Government’s ambition to use public procurement as a policy lever to achieve new contracting opportunities for the SME sector and possibly British jobs for British workers. Social objectives are just as needed if not more pressing.

The current welfare to work programmes are offering too few disabled people the opportunity to apply for too few appropriate jobs and unsurprisingly are largely ineffective. This could get worse when the Work Programme and the specialist Work Choice programmes are replaced in October by the new Health and Work Programme. Although the new programme will be more individually tailored than its predecessors, it will have around a quarter of the previous money spent on helping disabled people back to work. It is predicted to achieve around 20,000 job outcomes per year or a mere 10% of the annual target of the Government’s manifesto commitment (ref 5)

Disability Rights UK operates a campaign funded by Comic Relief called “I can make it” engaging young disabled people to influence local government to insert contractual clauses requiring those private sector organisations winning large contracts to set a target for the recruitment of disabled employees. The target can be varied depending upon the resources available to the organisation, the profile of the labour market from which it recruits or into which it sells its goods and service; and by the size and type of the contract that it wins. The key point is that it benchmarks its starting point and reports against a fair target that it has set itself. The twin drivers of the Social Value Act and equalities legislation make the campaign’s objectives possible. However, whilst the legislation and policies exist we have found at times a lack of leadership to move from in principle commitment to actual implementation. This is currently frustrating our modest ambition to create 500 jobs for disabled people and a further 50 jobs through supply chain management.

Recommendation 6

Government should demonstrate its own leadership by requiring the successful bidders of the projects in the national infrastructure plan to set targets for disability recruitment. It should also issue guidance to local authorities asking them to insert model clauses into tenders of an appropriate size and type. In its guidance it would permit the accrual of social value to any department of the authority and not simply the department that lets the contract. Finally it would extend this use of the metric of disability employment as a legitimate and required objective of the contracting of all publicly funded statutory bodies.

Question 24

Further steps in procurement

Accessibility drives participation and examples can be observed in a myriad of examples e.g. shopmobility schemes funding access to shops, Access to Work funding reasonable adjustment supporting thousands to work, web access standards supporting digital accessibility,

Recommendation 7

The Government uses it procurement powers to drive up accessibility across the economy and wider society. We wish to see the Government use access standards as a means of defining quality and the outcomes to be experienced by disabled people. 

Question 25


Disability Rights UK wishes to see the UK become a world leader in assistive and healthcare technology – building on the strong positioning and reputation that we already have.

The assistive technology sector as represented by their trade body BATA have around a 1000 businesses, produce around 1500 products and employ over 5000 employees. The British Healthcare Trade Association has some 500 business members and employs around 17,000 employees. There is likely to be some overlap but what is clear is that in the context of an aging population there are increasing numbers of disabled people and so these businesses are operating in a growing market.

The industry itself is predicting that the next decade should see great strides in: activated/brain computer interaction technology, augmented reality and  advanced robotics. Disability Rights would wish to see disabled people themselves benefit from these industrial sectors obtaining sector deals through employment in user testing and consumer feedback to platform businesses and lean start ups that support ever more innovation.

As the old adage goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Nothing could be truer for Rob Smith, a former electrical engineer student from Warwick University who became paralysed from the waist down following an accident whilst on holiday. After incurring partial paralysis in all his four limbs he began developing gripping aids, from his home. Smith parlayed his invention into the company “Active Hands” in 2008 and now has a range of products for tetraplegics/quadraplegics as well as individuals with cerebral palsy and those recovering from a stroke.  Many of Active Hands’ gadgets and aids were used by paralympians in the 2016 paralympics in Rio. This year’s turnover is expected to be between £200,000 and £250,000 with 50% of the company’s products exported overseas (ref 6). This example illustrates the motivation of many disabled people to resolve the challenges they face but also the challenges of other people too.

The global economics of disability

Globally there are 1.37 billion disabled people and as a market they represent an economy equivalent in size to that of China. The under-utilisation of people with disabilities in the US economy is estimated to be annually equivalent to 3.35% of GDP (ref 7). 

Recommendation 8

The UK Government sponsors a trade mission for the assistive technology and healthcare technology sectors. Further we would wish the Government to conclude sector deals with these industries.

Question 34

What is missing?

Disabled people and their representative organisations.

Question 37 and Question 38

Upgrading institutions and missing institutions

The Green Paper oversight of one in five of the UK population and their real and potential contribution to the UK economy and society is a massive oversight. We have reached a Macpherson moment in policy development when there is a need to break with “institutional disablism” and the culture that supports it.

Recommendation 9

We wish to see all institutions with responsibility for economic growth including the Business Bank, Innovate UK and all the Local Enterprise Partnerships report on their plans to improve the economic participation of disabled people including their participation in their own planning.


  1. https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/being-disabled-in-britain.pdf

  2. “More than words: rethinking employment support for disabled people” Oakley M for ERSA, 2016
  3. https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/sites/default/files/pdf/AheadoftheArc9Dec2016.pdf

  4. https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2016/april/our-new-guide-education-training-and-employment-options-disabled-people

  5. http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/app/uploads/2016/06/Retention-deficit.pdf

  6. http://www.activehands.com/history

  7. http://www.rod-group.com/

Contact: Philip J Connolly at Philip.connolly@disabilityrightsuk.org

Telephone: 0207 250 8192