-A A +A
Select color visibility that suits you Basic theme Dark theme Darker theme Text only

Good progress made by the APPG for Disability and more to come

28 February 2018

Over the past few months, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Disability has held several events and secured a number of commitments from government in relation to disability policy.

We have held meetings on: the implications of Brexit on disabled people (an assessment of which the government has notably failed to carry out); the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and how it could be used to strengthen the rights and protections of disabled people; the government’s Improving Lives command paper, which contains the government’s plan to meet its manifesto commitment to get one million more disabled people into work; and social security policy and its effects on disabled people. The meetings have featured presentations from expert academics and have had government representation from the Department for Work and Pensions and BEIS. Minutes from the meetings are available here

Scheduled upcoming events will centre on accessibility, disability and international development, and disability in public broadcasting. Penny Mordaunt MP, Secretary of State for International Development is confirmed to co-chair a meeting on the role of International Development in supporting disabled people in developing countries in March. We look forward to meeting with the Ministers and putting forward our views and evidence regarding government policy. 

In addition to this, numerous meetings have been held across Whitehall with a view to getting the recommendations in the APPG’s report "Ahead of the Arc: a contribution to halving the disability employment gap", launched in December 2016, incorporated into government policy. The co-authors of the report (Philip Connolly, Disability Rights UK, and Disability@Work academics Nick Bacon, Kim Hoque, Melanie Jones and Vicki Wass) have met with the BEIS Industrial Strategy team, DWP Office for Disability Issues, the Joint Health and Work Unit, Cabinet Office Crown Representatives, HM Treasury, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, the Government Construction Board, Innovate UK and the British Business Bank.

Within these meetings, Philip Connolly and the Disability@Work academics have argued that the disability employment gap will not reduce significantly unless employers acknowledge the positive contribution disabled people make in the workplace, and develop new workplace cultures that are more accommodating towards them. They have also argued that is in employers’ enlightened self-interest to this, given that increasing the number of disabled people in employment presents a solution to the labour supply problems and skills shortages employers are likely to face in the event of tighter controls on the free movement of people following Brexit. These arguments have undoubtedly helped emphasise the view across Whitehall that disabled people have an essential role to play in helping address the labour market problems the UK is likely to face in the near future.

Several of these meetings have led to notable successes. In particular, it is unlikely that the Industrial Strategy white paper, published in November, would have made a commitment to increase the proportion of disabled people in apprenticeships by 20 per cent in the absence of the meetings held with the BEIS Industrial Strategy team. The generally more positive tone in the Industrial Strategy regarding the contribution of disabled people to the economy is also quite likely in part due to these efforts.

A further notable success relates to the recommendations within the “Ahead of the Arc” report to leverage public procurement to increase the number of disabled people in employment. With regard to this, the Government Construction Board made a commitment that disability issues will be placed on a par with gender and ethnicity issues when equality matters are discussed, and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority has invited Disabilty@Work to work with them in developing social metrics to measure the performance of procurement projects regarding disabled people. 

Similarly, Innovate UK have committed to work with Disability@Work to establish disability metrics.

A further central argument Philip Connolly and Disability@Work colleagues have made within these meetings has been that the government’s Disability Confident scheme will prove insufficient in engendering the requisite level of change among employers. The number of employers that sign up to the scheme is always likely to remain low, and evidence suggests that employers who do sign up will not necessarily treat disabled people any better or employ disabled people in greater numbers. These arguments are likely to have gone some distance in establishing the view across Whitehall that government policy needs to go significantly beyond Disability Confident if workplaces are to become genuinely accessible environments for disabled people.

These meetings across Whitehall are ongoing, with future meetings scheduled with HM Treasury, the Joint Health and Work Unit, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority; and the No. 10 policy unit. We hope to be able to report further successes of the type outlined above in the near future.

These are achievements to be proud of, but there is certainly more we can do. Last December, the Chancellor of the Exchequer commented that increased disability employment is responsible for decreasing national productivity. This statement does not reflect evidence, but does reflect outmoded attitudes and prejudices. It is critical to counter these arguments and change such attitudes, especially when they are held by such significant representatives of the government. To this end, our chair Dr Lisa Cameron MP led a Main Chamber debate on the topic of disability employment and inclusion within the UK economy, which took place on the 22nd February. The debate featured constructive and cross-party discussion, and was the first debate in the Main Chamber to view disabled people as valuable contributors of our economy and society. Members spoke of how facilitating work amongst those who are willing and able is vital to both national growth and to improving the wellbeing of millions of individuals. The debate can be viewed in the archives on http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Commons

Recognition of disabled people’s contribution to the economy also includes  acknowledging and supporting disabled entrepreneurs and business leaders. Dr Cameron raised this often overlooked point in her opening speech for the debate, and last year we held two roundtable meetings with corporate leaders and business executives on the topics of growth sectors of the economy and business networks respectively (two key themes in the “Ahead of the Arc” report) to see how disabled people can be supported and encouraged into senior and independent business roles. This idea was also emphasised during the Main Chamber debate organised by Dr Cameron, given that the government plan for increasing employment among disabled people, contained within the Improving Lives white paper, only refers to disabled people as either employees or benefit claimants and never as employers, investors or entrepreneurs.

The disability employment gap is large and enduring, and much work is needed to achieve an inclusive economy that truly works for all.

For further details about our meetings and events, please contact appgsecretariat@disabilityrightsuk.org. We also have a Twitter page, where we post updates about the activities of the APPG for Disability news: https://twitter.com/DisabilityAPPG