One of the country’s leading disabled people’s organisations is to end its commitment to being a user-led charity in a bid to become a national player in the employment support market.
Essex Coalition of Disabled People, which has been known for five years as ecdp, is being replaced by a new organisation, Purple, which will be a community interest company (CIC) instead of a charity and will focus on helping disabled people into work.
Although Purple will still provide services such as help with direct payments, developing support plans and personal health budgets, it will focus on employment-related consultancy and recruitment services.
And it will no longer commit to being a disabled people’s user-led organisation (DPULO) – 100 per cent of ecdp’s board are disabled people – although the proportion of its board might still have a majority of disabled people.
Mike Adams (pictured), former chief executive of ecdp and now chief executive of Purple, said a key reason for the move was the loss last summer of ecdp’s biggest contract, with a local authority.
He said: “There was a kind of recognition as a disability organisation that there was a level of patronage that really existed and our future lay in the hands of not us, and our existence lay in the hands of not us.”
He said he had seen many DPULOs go out of business in the last 12 months, usually because their main funder had either withdrawn or significantly lowered its funding.
Another reason for replacing ecdp with Purple was the recognition that it “needed to modernise”, he said.
Adams said: “What we were providing probably wasn’t the cutting-edge services and products that disabled people required.”
As a result, ecdp interviewed all 2,000 of its members over five months about “what it is like to be disabled in Essex”.
He said ecdp’s members said they wanted “high quality information, advice and guidance from an organisation that understands disability, but to be frank they actually don’t care whether we are a user-led organisation or not”.
He said: “We thought that was always going to be one of our unique selling points, but we were totally disabused by our members.”
But he said Purple would still have the principles of “the lived experience of disability, the voice of disabled people” instilled in everything it did, while providing “a set of services and products that disabled people want to buy”.
And he said that as long as that was the case, being a DPULO was less important.
He admitted that he was “anxious” of how this would be received by other DPULOs.
He said: “We have a huge job to persuade people that the model we are setting out is the right one for disabled people.
“I am absolutely aware that for some people they will see this as not selling out but a compromise too far, and I suspect that this is not going to work for everyone.”
He said he hoped that there would be a similar reaction to when he gave a presentation to the National Centre for Independent Living several years ago, shortly after becoming chief executive of ecdp, in which he warned that disabled people’s organisations needed to change how they operated or they would cease to exist.
Although he was slow-handclapped during that speech, he said many people came to him in the following weeks to say they might not agree but would still like him to explain what he meant.
He said: “It’s not our intention to be radical. I don’t like being an outlier, but I do know if we hadn’t done what we are doing I’m not sure the lives of disabled people in Essex and beyond would be better for it.”
Out of the consultation with ecdp members, he said, came the recognition that Purple would need to “marry together disabled people and businesses and other stakeholders in order to have a different conversation about disability”.
Some of the products and services offered by Purple will be aimed at businesses and others will be aimed at disabled people, he said.
He said the new board would be an “amalgam of disabled people and business leaders who might be disabled or might not”.
He said: “We are looking for talented individuals who see the potential of Purple, but we are not going to have that restrictive 100 per cent that we had with ecdp.
“There are other DPULOs who survive and thrive but we wanted to expand our reach and move out of an organisation that was predominantly into social care and health and move into issues which really impact on the lives of disabled people, which was employment, education… and the way to do that is to bring those stakeholders into the tent.”
Adams was a member of a taskforce set up by the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, to look at how to improve the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident (DC) campaign.
He said DC was likely to move on from being “just a campaign communications tool to something where organisations can actually work for something and get something. That is what the taskforce was asked to look at.”
One of Purple’s services will be to help employers become “accredited”, as part of the government’s refreshed Disability Confident scheme.
He said the new accreditation process was one of the taskforce’s recommendations that Tomlinson has accepted, although he was not able to provide details of how this would work ahead of today’s (Thursday) planned Disability Confident relaunch.
But he insisted that the new DC would be “more than a campaign” and “something much more concrete and much more than warm words”, and that “we absolutely hope” that it would not “simply be a modern-day Two Ticks”, the much-criticised scheme run by Jobcentre Plus that shows which employers are supposedly “positive about disabled people” in their recruitment.
The decision to close ecdp and replace it with Purple was a unanimous one taken by the ecdp board, said Adams.
He said: “I think everyone knew that if we didn’t do something pretty radical, pretty different, as an organisation, we would be providing no support to disabled people in a few months’ time.”
The decision to become a CIC instead of a charity – although part of it is likely to be set up as a charitable foundation – will provide “the opportunity for people to invest in some of the different products and services we are developing”, he said.
Purple’s target is to help more than 20,000 disabled people find permanent jobs over the next decade.
Adams said: “We want to go from an organisation based in Essex for people in Essex and the hinterland to an organisation that is based in Essex and that works nationally.”
As well as acting as a specialist employment agency for disabled people, through its online disability recruitment agency, it also will offer “meaningful work placements”, extending a disability employment programme ecdp has been running called ecdp Works.
The programme offers participants an intensive one-week training and development course, followed by a six-week supported work placement, and then another intensive week, followed by three months of support while either seeking employment – more than three-fifths have found jobs – or furthering their education.
He said: “We think that programme works because it’s been run by disabled people for disabled people; one participant described it as a disability boot camp.”
Purple is part of two consortia, led by “national players”, which are bidding for substantial contracts that would mean – if successful – Purple delivering this programme to “significant numbers” of disabled people over the next three years.
Adams would not confirm who the “national players” were, although he confirmed that they were not Remploy/Maximus or Atos.
He said it was likely that Purple would gradually develop “satellite bases” across the UK, and hopefully become known as “an organisation that works across the UK rather than just Essex and the south-east”.
It also intends to become a major player in the recruitment of personal assistants (PAs), planning to help disabled people recruit 25,000 PAs in the next 10 years.
Adams, a former senior manager with the Disability Rights Commission, previously chaired an expert advisory panel for the government on its Access to Work scheme.
As part of its launch, which saw Adams open the London Stock Exchange on Tuesday (12 July) morning, Purple released findings from a survey of 1,000 businesses.
The survey found nearly half of the businesses (45 per cent) were apprehensive about hiring a disabled person, because of fears that they would not be able to do the job and concerns about making “inappropriate comments or actions”.
It also found that almost half of employers (43 per cent) expected job applicants to disclose their impairments before they were interviewed, despite there being no legal obligation to do so.
Adams said Purple had benefited from substantial “in kind” support around this week’s launch, including the Stock Exchange event and an evening reception at the offices of international law firm CMS Cameron McKenna.