The government may have abandoned its target to halve the disability employment gap, according to a leading disabled people’s organisation.
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said it feared comments made last week by the new work and pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, suggested he had abandoned his party’s general election manifesto commitment to halve the gap between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people.
Crabb told the Commons work and pensions committee last week that he wanted to “take a step back” from previous government plans to publish a white paper that would include “firm legislative proposals” on supporting disabled people into work.
Instead, he said, there would be a “much more discursive green paper that starts to reframe the issue and points the way towards more meaningful long-term reform”.
Sue Bott (pictured), DR UK’s deputy chief executive, said: “The government has an ambition to halve the employment gap between disabled people and everyone else. Are they abandoning this ambition?
“They had planned to produce a white paper on ways to reverse this gap; but now we are only to have a green paper, which is merely a discussion piece rather than concrete proposals. Effectively kicking the issue in to the long grass for months, if not years.”
She said that many Conservative MPs had only been persuaded to vote for a £30-a-week cut in the rate of employment and support allowance (ESA) paid to new claimants placed in the work-related activity group because of the promise of a white paper this summer.
Bott said: “It is bad enough that the government spends so much of its time and resources on finding ways to deny us benefits and support but then not to put measures in place that would increase employment opportunities really is a double whammy for disabled people.
“The fact is that it is only when we see a government seriously committed to equality will we get progress.
“We call upon the secretary of state to urgently confirm if he remains committed to halving the disability employment gap.”
Meanwhile, new analysis published by the TUC suggests that at current rates of progress, the government will not meet its pledge to halve the disability employment gap until 2030.
The findings, published ahead of the TUC’s annual disabled workers’ conference (taking place in London on 19 and 20 May), forecast that by 2020 just over half (52 per cent) of disabled people will be in work – 11 percentage points lower than the government promised.
The analysis also reveals that disabled people face significantly lower wages than non-disabled people.
Full-time disabled workers earned 13 per cent (£75 a week) less than full-time non-disabled people in 2015, while disabled people working part-time earned 14 per cent (£30 a week) less than part-time non-disabled workers.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government is years behind schedule in achieving its employment target for disabled people.
“While ministers are right to prioritise getting more disabled people into work, they are going about things the wrong way.
“Cutting vital benefits and employment programmes will succeed only in locking disabled people out of the workplace.
“Unless we do more to break down the barriers disabled people face applying for jobs and staying in work then progress will remain painfully slow.”
Among its recommendations, TUC called on the government to expand, protect and promote schemes like Access to Work; reverse the cuts to ESA; and amend the government’s Work Programme to provide separate streams tailored for disabled people.
It also called on employers and the government to work with unions to tackle the discrimination many disabled people face in the workplace, and for employers to work with unions to ensure disabled staff have the adjustments they need to stay in their jobs.