A disabled peer has failed to persuade the government to publish an annual report on progress towards its target of halving the disability employment gap.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell had proposed an amendment to the government’s welfare reform and work bill during this week’s report stage in the Lords.
She told fellow peers that without such a report there would be “no robust way of analysing what exactly is preventing disabled people from working, and of putting it right”.
Baroness Campbell (pictured during the debate), whose amendment received widespread support from other peers, including Labour’s shadow work and pensions spokesman Lord McKenzie, said she had seen repeated attempts at solving the “so-called disability unemployment problem” throughout her career.
She said: “We tinker at the edges, running pilots, employer awareness campaigns and support programmes with short-lived funding and we wonder why the figures remain abysmally low.
“Halving the employment gap is a very ambitious commitment, which has not been achieved by any administration in my lifetime.
“It will take a well-informed, cross-government strategy that addresses the barriers specific to different impairment groups to understand what lies behind the barriers to work.”
She said the gap had been more than 30 per cent for more than a decade, with the employment rate for disabled people currently 47.6 per cent, and 80.5 per cent for non-disabled people.
She said: “The government need to radically think again and put a specific reporting obligation in the bill.
“I know that departments will then give it higher priority, and everyone concerned will see that the government’s commitment in its manifesto is genuine.”
She said such a report would “identify those who encounter the biggest barriers to work, ensuring better targeting of resources for support”.
Her fellow disabled crossbench peer, Lord [Colin] Low, supported her amendment and congratulated the government on setting its goal to halve the disability employment gap, but he said it would “take a lot of work to achieve it”.
Lord Low said: “Having targets specific to this objective and reporting regularly on them will be necessary if we are to monitor the progress desired and to take remedial action if required.”
He said that such a report would allow “better analysis of how current support arrangements are working and help the government to better target resources and support where they are most needed”, and enable the government to produce separate data relating to people with learning difficulties, autism, mental health conditions, and visual and hearing impairments.
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, who also backed Baroness Campbell’s amendment, said the employment rate for people with learning difficulties was only eight per cent, and just 15 per cent for those with autism.
She said that existing government policies on disability employment had “not been very successful”, while its plan to cut nearly £30 a week from new claimants in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance – proposals which peers threw out later in the week – would be likely to push many disabled people further from the job market.
But Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, said Baroness Campbell’s amendment was “unnecessary”.
He promised that the government would report on progress on halving the disability employment gap within its annual report on full employment.
He said: “There is no need to include a reporting duty in the bill to drive progress or signal commitment in this area.
“We have already said that we will publish a white paper later this year to set out our plans for improving support for disabled people and people with health conditions, to further reduce the disability employment gap and to promote integration across health and employment.”
But Baroness Campbell told him that even a chapter dedicated to disability in the annual report on full employment “will not do what it needs to for disabled people in really beginning to address that 30 per cent gap”.
She said: “Disabled people are complex creatures; we are all so different, and all our support is different.
“Understanding why we are not entering the employment market will take something else – something more than a chapter in a generic report.
“However committed the minister is that it should reflect the situation, I am afraid that it will not.”
She did not ask peers to vote on her amendment and instead asked Lord Freud to tell the Department for Work and Pensions and other government departments: “Okay, this will be part of the generic report, but I want it to be a substantive part, and I want more than a generic report with a chapter on disability that tells us all the things that we already know.”