It would hardly be an understatement to say that progress in the UK on disabled people gaining employment in the workplace, which they are able to retain in the longer term, has been negligible so far. In the new government strategy published to propose how employment levels for disabled people can improve, it is acknowledged that at the current rate, those who are disabled are twice as likely to leave work and three times more likely to struggle in seeking work. In recent figures for the labour market, there are 49% of disabled people in work compared to just 44% in 2013, but with 81% of non-disabled population now classed as employed. It is a matter of urgency, which as the strategy’s inception suggests, to find solutions that close the gap so that future generations of disabled people will not be facing the same position.
Some of the initiatives which have been announced include a target to have 4.5 million in work by 2027, an increase of one million, which also supplants the goal of halving the gap by 2020 previously. This revised ambition for another 10 years to see an increase can only be seen as recognition of the difficulty in achieving change. Also planned are an expansion of work coaches and young people having access to supported work experience opportunities, in particular for those with learning disabilities. It is welcome to also see that young people who are supported by Education, Health and Care Plans (ECHPs) will be provided with specialised guidance to help them partake in internships and placements which may allow progression into education and work options beyond secondary education.
While there is plenty of promise in accessing employment for disabled children and young people, there are other wider issues around social care, attitudes surrounding disability and overall quality of life where more attention is also deserved. According to figures from the Papworth Trust, 40% of disabled children live in poverty and a sizeable proportion of those are in ‘severe poverty’. In short, a holistic approach to making life more satisfying and fruitful would naturally also make work an essential element in creating a feeling of acceptance of disabled people as part of local communities. We also have a need to assure the UN’s Committee of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) the UK will be meeting its obligations that disabled people are being treated fairly and with dignity as individuals. The new strategy may be making the right noises in its own right, but it would be foolish to deny this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the long journey to achieving real equality.