The UK government will not be able to achieve its aim of halving the disability employment gap because of its failure to address the “crucial” issue of independent living, according to a national disabled people’s organisation.
In its response to the government’s Improving Lives green paper on work, health and disability, Disability Wales (DW) says it is “impossible to fathom how the disability employment gap will be halved without a recognition of the level of disadvantage and discrimination faced by disabled people in every area of life”.
This means addressing the availability of accessible housing, accessible transport, income security, and accessible education and skills training.
DW says that improving social care is “crucial”, with independent living “key” to enabling disabled people to work.
And it says that if the government is “genuine” about seeking to achieve equality for disabled people, it needs to reverse its cuts to disability benefits.
Rhian Davies (pictured), chief executive of DW – the national association of disabled people’s organisations in Wales – said: “We’ve heard horrific stories from disabled people who have been left without income after being found fit for work when they were still unwell; of lies in assessment reports and of people who have been pushed to total despair at being trapped in poverty with no power or support to make their lives better.
“These are real people and real lives and none of this disadvantage has been acknowledged or addressed by the DWP green paper.”
In its response to the green paper, her organisation says the government has taken a “somewhat confused medical model approach to disability” and has “side-lined and marginalised” the collective rights of disabled people by “framing disability as a health and well-being issue centred on the individual”.
The response offers seven key areas for action to improve access to employment for disabled people, including: a clearer route through the benefits system; the need for flexible working, including flexibility for self-employed disabled people; more information, advice and support for employers; and improved social care.
It calls for a “firmer link” between jobcentres, employers and the government’s Access to Work scheme, and for the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident scheme to be strengthened, “not only by independent assessment but also by more robust requirements around employers evidencing how they are disability confident”.
And it says that employer attitudes towards disabled people must change, with more done to raise awareness of rights in the workplace.
Another national disabled people’s organisation, Disability Rights UK (DR UK), has also submitted its response to the government’s green paper.
The DR UK response welcomes the government restating its commitment to halving the disability employment gap, and proposals for more “individually tailored” employment support, particularly around peer support schemes.
But it says the green paper is “not a coherent plan” and lacks measures focused on employers, such as forcing them to report on how many disabled people they employ, and commitments to make government departments and agencies “exemplars” in employing disabled people.
It also calls on the government to scrap the much-criticised work capability assessment “in its current form”, and adds: “The test fails to match people to support and the anxiety its unfairness creates may actually be making it less likely that people will ever work again.”
Among its suggestions, it says the government should commit to “a year on year improvement in the proportion of apprenticeships taken up by disabled people”.
And it demands an end to benefit sanctions, and the restoration of the cut – due next month – to employment and support allowance for new claimants placed in the work-related activity group.
It also calls for action on access to public transport, on accessible housing, and a recognition of the importance of social care.
The DR UK green paper response says the government cannot take a “neutral or indifferent stance when some media portray disabled people as unwelcome and unworthy recipients of benefits [and] guilty of being work-shy” because “prospective employers read these stories too”.
Instead, it says, the government needs to “tell a positive story on disability whereby disabled people are of service to themselves, their families, their employers, their community and our society”.
But it also says that the white paper that will follow the green paper “must tell a bigger story than the one about supporting or requiring disabled claimants or those with a long-term health condition to obtain or return to work.
“It must also cover how it is going to support them to be entrepreneurial, to be leaders, civically engaged, volunteers, inventors, business people, as well as employers.”