Disabled people face institutional disablism from employers, says damning report

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Disabled people are facing “institutional disablism” at the hands of both public and private sector employers, according to a new parliamentary report that examines how the government can meet its pledge to halve the disability employment gap.

The report by the all-party parliamentary group on disability (APPGD) – which has cross-party support – concludes that it will take almost 50 years for the government to achieve its pledge at its current rate of progress.

It suggests that the government will only be able to halve the gap by taking a far tougher stance on dealing with employers that discriminate against disabled staff and would-be employees.

The report, Ahead Of The Arc – which is supported by MPs and peers from seven political parties – calls on the government to drop its opposition to regulatory action that would force employers to take action.

It says: “It is time to consider abandoning a voluntary-only approach towards requiring employers to measure and to increase disability employment.”

Evidence suggests that the failure of public and private employers to provide appropriate support to disabled people in the workplace and to offer fair access to start-up funds, business advice and business networks amounts to “institutional disablism”, the report says.

Professor Victoria Wass, of Cardiff Business School, one of the report’s authors, said there were “parallels” between the institutional disablism facing disabled people and the conclusions of the Macpherson report in 1999, which concluded that the Metropolitan police and other police forces were institutionally racist.

The APPGD report suggests that employers found to have discriminated against disabled people should face lesser penalties if they have “substantive” equality policies in place.

And it says the government needs “a tighter legal framework” to ensure that disabled employees are no longer “managed out of the workplace” by their employers, something that is happening to an estimated 35,000 to 48,000 disabled people every year.

At current rates of progress, the report warns, the disability employment gap will not be halved until 2065.

It says the “size and endurance of the employment gap reflects multiple and repeated failures of public and private sector organisations to address discrimination and disadvantage against disabled people”.

The government needs to pay less attention to cutting the social security bill and more to ensuring disabled people have access to the labour market, the report says.

And it warns that economic growth alone will not deliver the government’s commitment to halving the gap – the difference between the rates of non-disabled people (currently 80 per cent) and disabled people (currently 48 per cent) in jobs – which is currently 32 percentage points.

It calls instead for the government to take a “new, innovative and multi-dimensional approach combining incentives, persuasion, funding and legislation”.

It calls for action in six broad areas: self-employment; the availability of government business loans and grants to disabled people; securing support from mainstream and specialist business networks; taking advantage of the large sums of government money spent on public procurement; spreading best practice; and offering employers incentives such as tax breaks, but also imposing new regulations.

The report says the government must ensure that public sector contracts are only awarded to organisations with a good track record on employing disabled people.

It says the £242 billion the government spends on buying goods and services every year is “largely a missed opportunity to use that influence and help redress disability-related employment disadvantage”.

This could mean that “inclusive recruitment and retention policies are standard clauses in public sector contracts”, with targets monitored by the organisations commissioning those contracts.

The report adds: “Organisations must learn to collect, record and analyse the disability status of their users, employees or applicants as a routine procedure.”

It also calls on the government to provide a new right to return to work for newly-disabled workers within a year of acquiring a “major disability or long-term health condition”.

But just hours after the report was published, there were signs that the minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, had already dismissed the months of work invested in the report by disabled people, user-led organisations, academics, charities, MPs and peers.

When asked for a response to Ahead Of The Arc, a Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman refused to comment on its contents, instead emailing a statement from the minister that made no reference to the report.

Dr Lisa Cameron, the SNP MP who chairs the APPGD, told Disability News Service that the minister’s response was “extremely disappointing”.

And she said Mordaunt had already ignored an earlier request she made in parliament for a meeting to discuss the report.

Cameron told a parliamentary meeting held to launch Ahead Of The Arc that current government policy “quite simply will not halve the gap”.

There were also doubts raised about the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident scheme, which is supposed to encourage employers to do more to retain and recruit disabled people.

Johnny Mercer, the Tory vice-chair of the APPGD, said many employers were “very quick to put Disability Confident on their company logos” but “unless it means something it becomes sort of worthless”.

He said there was a need for “drastic measures” to halve the disability employment gap, but insisted that the issue was one of prime minister Theresa May’s “key areas” and was “part of her agenda”.

Philip Connolly, policy manager of Disability Rights UK – which provides the secretariat for the APPGD – and another of the report’s authors, said it provided an “aspirational agenda” which “takes the government at its word that it wants to cut the disability employment gap by half”.

But he said the government’s work, health and disability green paper was flawed because of its failure to suggest any measures aimed at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and because it contained “almost nothing about future industrial strategy”.

He said their investigations had “found deficiencies in all forms of government support” as well as institutional disablism.

Connolly said: “We cannot be cutting people’s benefits if we are not offering them the opportunity to get employment.”

The disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low said the report was “a valuable contribution to halving the disability employment gap”.

He said: “Economic growth alone will not deliver the government’s manifesto commitment to having the disability employment gap.”

He said that using public sector procurement was “an extraordinarily powerful lever” to get disabled people into work.

But he warned that the government’s plans to cut payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) placed in the work-related activity group by £30-a-week from April would be “counter-productive” to the government’s target of halving the gap.

He said: “It’s really disabling people’s ability to apply for jobs and get into the workforce.”

Labour MP Neil Coyle, secretary of the APPGD, cast doubt on Mordaunt’s suggestion last week that she would be able to cut disabled people’s costs by £120 per month to compensate for the ESA cut.

He said: “I don’t believe that is possible. People in this room will… make their own judgement on that.”

Tory MP Heidi Allen, a key backbench critic of the ESA cut, said: “I do happen to believe that she means it. Whether she can deliver it practically is another debate.

“It’s an incredibly ambitious target. Let’s give her the chance, but if it’s not there, remind her.”

Picture: Portcullis House, Westminster, where the launch event took place

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  • Samuel Miller

    “My field of interest is disability,” wrote Mr Miller. “If the British government is truly interested in increasing employment opportunities for the disabled, why doesn’t it follow the U.S. example
    and compel businesses to significantly increase the number of people with disabilities that they employ?

    “The U.S. rule requires most federal contractors to ensure that people with disabilities account for at least 7 percent of workers within each job group in their workforce.

    “While officials at the U.S. Department of Labor say they are not establishing a firm hiring quota for contractors, they do expect that businesses servicing the government will work toward achieving the target. Contractors that fail to meet the goal and do not show sufficient effort toward reaching the 7 percent threshold could lose their contracts under the new rule.

    “Disability advocates say the added pressure on federal contractors will go a long way—and, in my opinion, Britain should follow suit.”

    Excepted from: [October 2015] Where are the sanctions for employers failing to offer additional hours? | Vox Political http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/10/02/where-are-the-sanctions-for-employers-failing-to-offer-additional-hours/

  • emilyisobel

    This report hits the nail on the head John.
    We need enforcement of the Equality Act first and foremost.
    My experience of employment once I became disabled was horrific; the discrimination and harassment that I was subjected to has resulted in severe PTSD that makes it impossible for me to go back to teaching. I am still receiving treatment for it two years after last working and I feel further away from recovery than ever – I can’t even get near a school or anything that reminds me of my employment without suffering from severe panic and flashbacks. It reduces me to an inarticulate, shaking and tearful wreck – the complete opposite of how most people see me.

    My union (NUT), the local authority (ERYC) and most colleagues did not even recognise what was happening to me as disability related discrimination- the demands that I got a diagnosis (as if I wasn’t desperately doing everything I could to do that!) and the intrusion of the questioning about intimate medical details by school managers (most of which were irrelevant to my job) were brushed off as them needing to get a full picture before they could decide on whether I needed adjustments despite the distress they caused me.
    The put downs and jokes such as telling me that they would have had me shot if I’d been one of their horses or that I’d just have to get a catheter when I found that the only supposedly accessible toilet was up a flight of steps! I was told that I just needed to toughen up and that there wasn’t a strong enough case to claim discrimination just yet.
    When they sent me home for months because they decided to do a risk assessment without my knowledge and claim I was on sick leave because my GP had been giving me a fit note to attempt to get reasonable adjustments, I was told to make the most of it and rest! When I was put onto half pay and given a formal warning for absence (they weren’t allowing me into the building) I was told that the case wasn’t strong enough because I still had a job.
    It wasn’t challenged when they put observations in from day 2 when they let me back after months and wouldn’t allow phased returns that I could actually do. I kept continually being told that it wasn’t strong enough.
    It wasn’t challenged when I was moved to a building where the toilet wasn’t properly private, I couldn’t access facilities or the rest of my department and my room was too small for manoeuvre in my wheelchair so I ended up exacerbating my condition and cracking due to the complete isolation and going off sick. There hadn’t been a week over the three years I had been battling to keep my job that there wasn’t an incident of discrimination (I had evidence of the vast majority of them as well – 7 large files of letters and emails and hundreds of hours of recordings)
    When they started the process to sack me after I started tribunal proceedings myself, I was not represented and was told (by the union solicitor) that I had no case for unfair dismissal as I was still ill (even though I had been able to work if I had had all the adjustments in place)
    The mess that the union solicitor made of my case was unbelievable – when we went to a pre-hearing the judge ripped strips off them for not having presented the case in any format that could be followed and understood and for continually missing deadlines. After this the solicitor tried to force me into a settlement and refused to continue the case when I turned it down. I couldn’t accept a settlement that put the damage done to me at less than a third of a years’ pay and demanded a gagging clause that would stop me being able to talk about what had happened to me at all, even to doctors and future employers.

    The above is a very cut down version of my experiences – the full story would be of the length of a Tolstoy novel and as bizarre and convoluted as a Kafka one. It is also distressing to recount it.

    If the EHRC enforced the EA2010 rather than individuals having to take cases through the flawed and expensive tribunal system then we may have a chance of retaining employment.

    I have tried to get other employment since stopping teaching (despite being in the support group ) but application forms still ask about disability. I have no reference. My Maths degree is only relevant to teaching (in my area of the country) and I can’t find any way of funding further vocational qualifications as I already have a degree and professional qualifications.

    All of these things and much more (such as access to the world outside our front door, transport etc) need addressing in order to support disabled people into work but the government is choosing to ignore what disabled people are saying and choose to punish us for being discriminated against, whilst rewarding unscrupulous employers with the Disability Confidence Trick accreditation.

  • Bob Williams-Findlay

    ‘The APPGD report suggests that employers found to have discriminated against disabled people should face lesser penalties if they have “substantive” equality policies in place.’
    Am I reading this incorrectly? If employers have policies in place and STILL discriminate, surely this is less excusable not more? I would argue that this report doesn’t adequately address what it claims to be ‘institutional disablism’.