Industrial strategy is ‘not fit for purpose’ due to ‘missing chapter’

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The government’s new Industrial Strategy is “not fit for purpose” and has a “missing chapter” because of its failure to address the needs of disabled people, say campaigners.

The strategy, published as a white paper on Monday (27 November), aims to set out the government’s “long-term vision for how Britain can build on its economic strengths, address its productivity performance, embrace technological change and boost the earning power of people across the UK”.

But the strategy – apart from the reference notes at the end of the document – includes just eight mentions of disabled people or disability in its 254 pages, and does not appear to include a single new disability-related announcement.

A draft version of the strategy, which was published as a green paper in January, was heavily criticised for failing to address disability and equality issues.

In July, a senior civil servant for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was twice forced to acknowledge to the all party parliamentary group for disability (APPGD) that the industrial strategy would need to address this failure when it was published.

The green paper failed to include a single mention of disability or disabled people, or even equality.

There was also just one mention of disability (relating to investment in special educational needs) and no mention of equality in last year’s 113-page National Infrastructure Delivery Plan.

There have been suggestions that this failure meant the government had breached its public sector equality duty (PSED), under the Equality Act.

The civil servant, Alex Williams, had accepted the green paper’s flaws, and told the APPGD: “If we publish a similar statement…. without that due consideration it will not be a fit for purpose document.”

But this week’s strategy appears to have done little to put this right.

There are several references to existing policies, including a pledge to work with business to “to make flexible working a reality”, and a brief mention of the advantages of “remote access technology” in allowing disabled people to work from home.   

It also refers to the forthcoming green paper on social care, which it says “will respond to the wide challenges facing the social care sector”.

The government has been widely-criticised for side-lining the needs of working-age disabled people from the social care green paper.

There is also a mention of the government’s commitment to deliver the recommendations of the taskforce led by the disabled MP Paul Maynard (now the rail minister) on improving access to apprenticeships for people with learning difficulties, and the government’s commitment to increase the proportion of apprenticeships started by people with learning difficulties by 20 per cent by 2020.

The new strategy also says the government will say more about boosting disability employment in the Department for Work and Pensions’ work, health and disability white paper, which was published last night (Wednesday), and in its response to the review of workplace mental health by Lord (Dennis) Stevenson and Paul Farmer.

But there is disappointment that there is no mention in the strategy of how the government might use public sector procurement to insist on training and job opportunities for disabled people, through the £270 billion a year it spends on goods, works and services from the private sector.

Philip Connolly (pictured), policy and development manager at Disability Rights UK, said: “Penny Mordaunt herself (the former minister for disabled people) said that if the Industrial Strategy didn’t address the needs of disabled people it would have a missing chapter.

“The official at the APPGD went further and said it wouldn’t be fit for purpose. From disabled people’s point of view, it still has a missing chapter and is not fit for purpose.

“The good news is that the Industrial Strategy does reference the government’s target of moving a million disabled people into work by 2027, and does highlight their disadvantage in the labour market.”

He also welcomed the reference to the commitment on apprenticeships.

But he added: “However, despite the acknowledgement that public sector procurement represents one of the biggest levers the government has in the economy, there appears to be no real advances in policy that could assist the government in meeting its targets on disability employment.

“If the government insisted the public sector was more proactive on supporting disabled people in training and employment opportunities as a condition of awarding contracts, then we’d see a step change in the numbers of disabled people in the labour market.

“This is a lost opportunity and leaves the leadership of BEIS in delivering on the wider agenda of government look weak.”

He said he was even more concerned about the failings of the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan, which describes the government’s plans for economic infrastructure, and how it plans to support delivery of housing and social infrastructure, over the next five years.

Connolly said he was “involved in extensive dialogue with the people behind this plan and those who will be its major suppliers and there are still options for policy to change and for public and private investment to be linked to the disability employment gap target”.

He said he hoped the disability sector “will look at all the levers it has at its disposal including, if necessary, legal challenges, because on the basis of the industrial strategy there is a gulf between policies that lead to people coming off benefits and policies that support them getting into work”.

A BEIS spokesman said the strategy’s objective to “improve living standards and economic growth” will “benefit people with protected characteristics under the Equalities Act 2010” and produce no overall adverse disproportionate impact on those groups.

He said that equality impact assessments of policies in the strategy that have an impact on people with protected characteristics had been found to have a “neutral” or “positive” impact on those protected groups.

He said: “On this basis, we believe that we have complied with the public sector equality duty.”

He added: “We undertook a strong level of engagement with protected groups during and after the industrial strategy’s green paper consultation period, in order to test thinking and feed into our policy development (including engagement with disability organisations, such as Disability Rights UK, the all-party parliamentary group for disability, Mencap and Leonard Cheshire).

“This included a good level of ministerial engagement.

“Some of this feedback has influenced the ‘People’ chapter of the white paper, which brings out the importance of an inclusive labour market and sets out our approach for achieving this.

“The Industrial Strategy white paper is not the end of the process, but something we will build on for the long term and we look forward to continuing to engage with a broad range of stakeholders (including disability groups).”