The minister for disabled people and a senior civil servant have defended the use of misleading figures about the government’s performance on disability employment at a United Nations event in New York.
They made the comments yesterday (Wednesday) at an event hosted by the UK government as part of the 15th session of the Conference of State Parties (COSP), in which countries signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are meeting to discuss the treaty’s implementation.
Chloe Smith, the minister, told an audience of civil servants from across the world, including Ukraine, Barbados and the Netherlands, that she was “really pleased” that the UK had managed to increase the number of disabled people in work by 1.3 million in just five years.
She had used the same figure in delivering the UK’s statement to COSP the previous day, but failed to point out on Tuesday that the UK government’s National Disability Strategy had been declared unlawful by the high court in January.
Smith told yesterday’s event in New York that the increase in disability employment “means that more disabled people are able to enjoy the empowerment that good work can provide”.
She added: “This is an achievement that actually everybody can be proud of.
“It belongs to all of us because it takes many partners of course to bring that about: employers, work coaches, charities, representative organisations, and most of all disabled people themselves.”
But she did not share with the meeting the analysis of those figures that has been carried out by academics and shared repeatedly with the government, which shows they are “meaningless” when it comes to the inequality disabled people face in the jobs market.
This is because what has driven the increase in disabled people in employment since 2017 has been the level of overall employment – which is determined by the economic cycle – and the increasing proportion of people describing themselves as disabled.
The research – by the Disability@Work group of researchers – shows that, once account is taken of the increasing disability prevalence rate, there has been no improvement in the disadvantage faced by disabled people in the employment market since 2013.
Disability News Service had submitted a question to the meeting in advance, in the expectation that Smith would use the misleading figures without putting them into context.
The question asked if the minister accepted the Disability@Work analysis that shows there has been no change in the inequality or disadvantage disabled people face in the jobs market since 2013.
The question put to her by a civil servant was slightly different, and asked instead: “The research shows that the one million disabled people in work that the minister referenced results from more people identifying as disabled and a general employment increase.
“How are these factors accounted for?”
Jennifer Heigham, from the government’s Work and Health Unit, said that no measure of disability employment was perfect and that was why the government used “lots of different measures”, including the disability employment gap.
She said the one million target – which the government had set and exceeded – was used because it was “easy to understand and ambitious”.
She claimed that the increase in prevalence accounted for about half of the increase in disabled people in employment, and that the government was “absolutely transparent about that, that prevalence is a major factor, but it’s definitely not the only factor”.
Heigham said the government wanted to see more people disclosing that they are disabled, and to “capture” those people falling out of work where prevalence has increased, as well as those who had previously described themselves as disabled.
Smith said she wanted to add that the government needed to “work together” with the third sector, the private sector, disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to come up with solutions and how to share them.
She said the government had always produced the disability employment gap measure alongside the figure for the number of disabled people in work, which together provided a “fuller picture” and helped demonstrate the “injustice” disabled people face.
He said Purple’s approach had been to engage with businesses to improve the experience of disabled consumers, which he claimed acts as an “accelerator” for disability employment.
He said: “It moves the model from seeing disability as one solely thinking about charity, vulnerable people, welfare and the responsibility of government, to one which is more akin to contribution, value, community and opportunity for both disabled people and for organisations.”
He said the key to disability employment was “seeing the talent, the individual that happens to have a disability or impairment, not seeing the barriers or the risk in the first instance”.
He added: “My assertion, and the assertion of Purple, is that good businesses will reflect their consumer base in their workforce.
“If disabled people are increased in the consumer base this will act as a pull to organisations to want to attract and retain disabled talent in their workforce.”
Adams also highlighted the importance of “unlocking” the rate of employees who disclose that they are disabled to their employers, to increase the number of “known” disabled employees within organisations, and help to give disability issues “a real voice, a real credibility” from the top of an organisation to frontline staff.
He said: “I have seen so many organisations where that starts to happen, people feel that they are able to disclose and at the point that that disclosure comes in, the reasonable adjustments can come in, wellbeing goes up and performance rates also go up as well.”
Picture: Chloe Smith
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…