The use of peer support to help disabled people into sustainable jobs could prove as important in promoting independent living as the development of direct payments, according to a leading figure in the disability movement.
Andy Rickell (pictured), a former chief executive of the British Council of Disabled People, called on the government to realise that its ambition to halve the disability employment gap could only be achieved if other aspects of independent living were not ignored.
He said the government needed to understand that equal employment opportunities for disabled people were only possible if the other 11 “pillars of independent living” – which include appropriate and accessible health and social care provision, accessible and adapted housing, and adequate provision of personal assistance – were also in place.
He said: “All the 12 pillars have to stack up for disabled people’s employment to work.”
He said disabled people’s support was a “house of cards” and that the government was “in danger of taking away some of the cards” through cuts to support and services.
Rickell said: “I am just hoping that they will get it, and work out the priority they need to give to disabled people’s support if they really want employment to be cracked.
“They have given that policy commitment in their manifesto to halve the disability employment gap [the gap between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people].
“To make that work they are going to have to rethink how they do disability.”
Rickell said there was no sign of that happening yet, and he called on ministers to “join up the dots”.
But he did say there had been significant progress on disability employment in the last 30 years, even if it felt that he and others were constantly “pushing an elephant up a hill”.
He said that Department for Work and Pensions funding now needed to be redirected at peer support, provided by disabled people’s user-led organisations, and “with a bit of luck in the next couple of years it will be”.
Rickell was speaking as the user-led organisation he headed, Action on Disability and Work UK (ADWUK), was transferred into the ownership of another Bristol-based disabled people’s organisation, the West of England Centre for Inclusive Living.
The move was necessary, he said, because of the lack of funding for disabled people’s organisations in the employment sector, a situation he hopes the government will address in its forthcoming white paper on employment support.
ADWUK provided support, training and advice to enable disabled people to fulfil their potential in work.
Rickell said that it was “probably two or three years ahead of its time” in emphasising the importance of peer support – involving disabled people themselves in providing advice and support to other disabled people seeking work – in disability employment.
Rickell was the only staff member to lose his job in the transfer, but he said he believed the decision to bring the two organisations together was the right one for disabled people.
He said: “We tried something out and demonstrated that it would work, and that we could do it really cost-effectively.
“The work will continue in an organisation that has a really good track record and believes in what we believe in, but we don’t need two chief executives.”
He added: “Obviously it is a bit sad for me, having helped ADWUK get to where it was, but this is the right outcome for disabled people as a whole.”