MPs and academics have dismissed claims by ministers in their new National Disability Strategy that the government has slashed the disability employment gap over the last seven years.
The claim that the gap – the difference between the proportion of disabled and non-disabled people in work – has fallen from 33.8 percentage points in 2014 to 28.6 percentage points in 2021 is one of the few successes ministers were able to point to in the new strategy.
The strategy also points to the number of disabled people in work growing by 800,000 in four years as further evidence that the government’s disability employment policies have been successful.
But the claims have been squashed by a report by the Commons work and pensions select committee, and a briefing on the strategy by four leading academics who form the Disability@Work group of researchers.
Professors Nick Bacon, from Cass Business School, and Kim Hoque, from Warwick Business School, point out that the disability employment gap has not narrowed at all since 2010, once account is taken of the increasing number of people self-identifying as disabled, according to Office for National Statistics figures.
Their colleagues, Professors Victoria Wass and Melanie Jones, both from Cardiff Business School, say that any claim of progress on narrowing the gap is “misleading” (PDF).
The four academics point out that the government appeared to accept that disability prevalence had been increasing, in last month’s disability benefits green paper, but then ignored this fact when reporting on the disability employment gap in the National Disability Strategy.
Bacon and Hoque point out that they told Justin Tomlinson (pictured), the minister for disabled people, and his officials about the increase in prevalence in the months leading to the strategy’s publication.
The Disability@Work group also provided evidence on the rise in disability prevalence to the cross-party work and pensions committee’s inquiry into the disability employment gap.
In the committee’s report on the gap, published on Friday, it says that any rise in the number of disabled people in work is “largely because of factors such as overall improvements to the labour market, which have also affected non-disabled people, and an increase in the prevalence of disability”.
It adds: “It does not appear to be as a result of substantial progress in addressing the specific barriers that disabled people face to finding and staying in work.”
A DWP spokesperson said the department would respond to the committee’s report in due course.
But he added: “Through our inclusive multi-billion-pound Plan for Jobs we are helping more disabled jobseekers to find, retain and progress in fulfilling work, offering specialist programmes, paired with personal support from our work coaches and disability employment advisers.
“The latest figures show the disability employment gap has narrowed, but we remain committed to reducing it further as we work towards our goal to see one million more disabled people in work by 2027.
“Our recently published National Disability Strategy, Health and Disability Benefits green paper and response to the Health is Everyone’s Business consultation have set out further actions that will support disabled people in their everyday lives, including by boosting career prospects for those who can work.”
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