Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Reform is needed for improved employment!

I have a keen interest in employment opportunities for disabled people so am encouraged by the recent consultations regarding how as a society we can move forward with increasing employment choice for disabled people. For far too long there has been a preconceived notion that disabled people cannot work and do not want to work. I have been further exasperated by the idea that disabled people are happy to fulfill mundane or menial roles. Yes some disabled people do want these roles but there are far more of us that want meaningful employment and career development.

Even worse, disabled people should not be used as some sort of “trophy” to employers. Yes it does happen! Daniel Biddle is a 7/7 survivor – his employers kept a position open for him but not the same role. He returned to work but found it difficult not to be in the same role and therefore decided to seek alternative employment. Daniel took on a number of positions but was unhappy with the amount of emphasis some employers put on him firstly being a 7/7 survivor and secondly being disabled. Fortunately, he is now employed with an organisation that is more interested in his skills and personal qualities.

Speaking at a meeting with Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller MP, he said: “After the bombing I realised it wasn't the end of my life. I can still do the same as everyone else in my job and travel round the country visiting clients.

“There are real benefits of employing disabled people. We are good at problem solving skills, as we overcome different challenges in our everyday lives.

“I think the idea that disabled people are only capable of menial work is an outdated post-WWII view of disability. Why should we just do menial work because we are disabled when we are capable of so much more?”

It is interesting to note that at the current rate of progress it will be 2070 before the employment rate of disabled people catches up with that for non-disabled people. Disabled people's employment has crept up slowly – from 41% in 1998 to 47% in 2010. There are currently over 3 million disabled people in paid work but what about the 53% that are not?

Liz Sayce, chief executive of disability charity, Radar, has said that “a personalised approach to employment support be extended to disabled people, rather than subsidising separate work places. If the government implements my recommendations to support disabled people to "get in, stay in and get on" in employment, it would make a significant difference.

Disabled people's aspirations have changed. We want the opportunity to work in every sector from hairdressing to engineering, to "get in" through apprenticeships and work experience, and to "get on": progress in our careers and set up our own enterprises. We want to contribute to the economy. The only adjustment most of us need is a fair chance, or low cost flexibilities (such as not travelling in rush hour) – but some need support, extra training or equipment. The support must focus on the person so we can move from job to job and take our support with us”

I agree with Liz but reform in the broadest sense must take place to push forward this ideal. The Access to Work Scheme needs to be addressed. It needs to be publicized more broadly so that both disabled employees and potential employers are aware of the support that is available. There needs to be a more holistic approach to how the funding is allocated. Benchmarking everyone the same does not work and therefore Access to Work needs to focus more on the individual and their specific requirements. It should be easier to move your support with you should you change your employment. The uncertainty of whether the Access to Work Support will continue often results in disabled people being unconfident about seeking alternative employment opportunities.

Disabled people want to work – they recognise the value of being part of the working society and like all people they have personal aspirations. For us as a society to see better employment and career opportunities for disabled people, reform is imperative and must be something that is addressed sooner rather than later for us to see a serious improvement of employment rates of disabled people.