The new minister for disabled people has laid out three ways in which she hopes to support more disabled people into employment, less than a month into her new job.
In one of her first appearances as a minister, the Conservative MP Esther McVey told a fringe meeting at her party’s annual conference in Birmingham that she hoped to use her previous experience as a businesswoman to help her in her new role.
She said that one of her priorities would be to work on a scheme to enable people with chronic ill-health to work flexibly from their own homes, an idea suggested by disabled activist and blogger Kaliya Franklin at a meeting at the conference with McVey and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
Franklin is working with fellow blogger and activist Sue Marsh and other campaigners to persuade political figures to make the benefits system more open to people with fluctuating conditions who want to run “micro-businesses”.
They want the government to create opportunities for such people to work flexibly for as many or as few hours every month as they can manage.
McVey said that, with the coalition already halfway through its five-year term, she had wanted to find policies with a “practical application”, and suggested a pilot scheme could begin by Christmas.
Franklin said after the meeting that she was encouraged by the new minister’s reaction to their ideas, and her grasp of detail, and hoped that it showed the coalition was finally starting to listen to disabled people’s concerns.
Franklin said: “It’s not that I think she has got all the answers, but I do think she has engaged more in her first month than [Maria] Miller [her predecessor] did in two years.”
McVey also spoke at the fringe meeting – which focused on creating sustainable jobs for disabled people – of wanting to persuade the media, particularly television companies, to feature more disabled people.
She pointed to Channel 4’s Paralympic coverage this summer, but said that this “only opened a door where really we need to push forward”.
She also spoke briefly about another new scheme, set to launch on 3 December, the International Day of Disabled People, which aims to create more disabled role models.
Agnes Fletcher, who coordinates a network of disabled people in senior roles, and a former Disability Rights Commission director, told the fringe meeting that evidence showed having someone at a senior level in an organisation being “appropriately open about their disability” changed workplace attitudes.
But she said she was “very anxious” about the impact of the current “strivers, saints and scroungers” rhetoric from the government and media, and the impact this was having on public attitudes and on “employer attitudes about whether they want to employ disabled people”.
She suggested that companies that received public money for welfare-to-work contracts could be forced to employ a certain “quota” of disabled people.
Rob Greig, formerly the government’s national director for learning disabilities and now chief executive of the National Development Team for inclusion (NDTi), told the fringe meeting that “attitudes and expectations” were the “major obstacle” to disabled people working.
He said there was “precious little evidence that volunteering helps people into real paid jobs”, and that an NDTi national survey had found more than two in five local authorities were cutting spending this year on supporting disabled people into employment.
He said: “Surely this is the point in time when we should be shifting spending from things like day services into employment support because that will reduce the dependency on public services.”
Wayne Henderson, a disabled Conservative party member from Surrey, called for much more to be done to take advantage of high-performing disabled role models such as Stephen Hawking and David Blunkett.
He also criticised the Department for Work and Pensions – McVey’s new department – for not employing enough disabled people.
11 October 2012