The minister for disabled people has attacked her predecessor – a fellow Conservative and a senior government colleague – for failing to do more to persuade employers to provide jobs for disabled people.
Esther McVey was speaking at an early morning fringe event on the future of specialist disability employment programmes, organised by the charity Shaw Trust, at the Conservative party’s annual conference in Manchester.
McVey told the meeting that there was a need for a specialist disability employment strategy, and that the key was to “get the right support to the right people”.
She admitted that some of the government’s disability employment advisers were “more knowledgeable” than others.
And she spoke of her new Disability Confident campaign, which aims to work with employers to “remove barriers, increase understanding and ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential”.
McVey said small and medium-sized companies would be a key target of the campaign, which will include regional events and radio advertising.
But she then told the audience, mostly representing providers of employment support, how much work there was for her to do to persuade businesses to provide job opportunities for disabled people.
She said: “I was amazed when I came in this job how little had been done in engaging with employers.”
McVey was appointed shadow minister for disabled people in September 2012, taking over from Maria Miller, who had been promoted to secretary of state for culture, media and sport.
Miller had been a focus for the anger of activists during her time as disabled people’s minister, particularly over the closure of the Remploy factories and cuts and reforms to disability living allowance.
Richard Clifton, business development director for Shaw Trust, also told the meeting: “There is a lot of fear out there and a lack of understanding about taking people on who have disabilities.
“For me, it was something we are taking on board but we are still not doing enough to educate employers.”
Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, said advisers with the government’s Jobcentre Plus did not always know how to assess disabled people and decide whether to refer them to the mainstream Work Programme or the specialist Work Choice scheme.
She said the majority of employment support providers were meeting their targets for finding work for people on jobseeker’s allowance, but for those disabled people claiming employment and support allowance the numbers were “so far down”.
Despite repeated requests, no-one from the Conservative party has yet commented on McVey’s criticism of her colleague.
3 October 2013