A Labour MP has proved that the government has abandoned a target it set to halve the disability employment gap by 2020.
The promise, included in last year’s general election manifesto, said a Conservative government would “aim to halve the disability employment gap” in the next parliament.
A month after the party’s election victory, Justin Tomlinson (pictured), the minister for disabled people, confirmed in a press release that the government “aims to halve the gap between the disabled employment rate and the overall employment rate by 2020”.
But in recent months, ministers have suggested that there was no target date for halving the gap, with Penny Mordaunt, the current minister for disabled people, stating on 4 November that it was “a long term project”.
Mordant has now finally admitted that the government has abandoned the target, in a written answer to Labour MP Stephen Timms, himself a former work and pensions minister.
In his latest attempt to persuade the government to admit that it had abandoned a target date, Timms had asked whether it expects “to achieve the commitment to halve the disability employment gap by (a) 2020, (b) 2025 and (c) 2030”.
Mordaunt told him the government was “not setting a deadline for completing this work”.
During a Commons debate the following day on planned government cuts to employment and support allowance, Timms pointed out the existence of Tomlinson’s press release from the previous year.
Even then, Tomlinson – who was sacked as minister earlier this year – claimed he did “not actually recall that press release, as my understanding was that we had not set the date”.
Despite the press release – issued in Tomlinson’s name and clearly stating the target date -Tomlinson claimed that he had actually wanted to set a different target, “such as having one million more people in work by a certain date”.
But Timms told him: “If one reads a commitment or a promise in a manifesto for 2015 to 2020, one is entitled to believe that what that says will be achieved will actually be achieved by 2020.”
He pointed out that David Cameron had said in one of last year’s televised election debates: “The gap between the disabled unemployment rate and the unemployment rate for the whole country is still too big. I want to see that cut in half over the next five years.”
Timms added: “He was explicit about that. The press release issued by [Tomlinson] – he told us that he could not remember it – was also clear that this was going to be done by 2020.
“That was what everyone in the disability organisations understood.”