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New National Disability Strategy: what does it mean for disabled people at work?

12 September 2021

In July, the UK Government published the new National Disability Strategy. The strategy covers education, travel, work, home and social life. While we welcome the move to the social model of disability, how much of a difference will the strategy make for disabled people in the workplace? 

Since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and, more recently, the Equality Act 2010, Prospect and disabled workers have been pushing for real equality in the workplace – something that previous legislation and strategies have failed to achieve. Accessibility has been at the heart of our work. 

Getting jobs 

We have a disability employment gap, and the UK and devolved governments have previously put measures in place to close it. Yet disabled people still earn 20% less than their non-disabled peers which is equal to £2.10 an hour, or £3,822 a year based on a 35-hour working week. This is nowhere near good enough. The strategy promises more support to help disabled people into work, as well as help finding new work when they have lost their job – hopefully this  can go some way to closing the gap. 

There are proposed changes to Access to Work, including using an Access to Work Adjustments Passport. This would work on the same premise as the Reasonable Adjustment Passports for the workplace – a measure Prospect supports. Tailored specialist aid and appliances will follow the passport holder when they change jobs. 

How we get to work 

Public transport, although more accessible than it used to be, continues to pose real challenges to disabled people – we have a long way to go until it is fully accessible. The strategy looks at how public transport can be improved, including bringing in a statutory duty for rail to improve accessibility. 

There is also welcome acknowledgement that it’s not just the vehicles that need improving, but the infrastructure too, and some improvements to the rail network have been ongoing since 2006. But more progress is needed – and unions must be among the leading voices in campaigning for these improvements. 

While in work 

It is good to see that there will be a review of the Disability Confident Scheme. However, there is no mention of moving from employers’ self-assessment, but let’s hope that they look at other options for objectively measuring how well those signed up to the scheme are doing. 

It’s not just about getting disabled workers into work, but then keeping them in work. This is important, as disabled workers may find themselves going through capability or sickness absence procedures, which can end up with them no longer in a job.   

The strategy does recognise the importance of keeping disabled people in work. One of the measures outlined is flexible working as the default position, with employers requiring a good reason to decline it. Currently, flexible working is something we can all apply for and may, in some cases, be a reasonable adjustment. Employers can, for business reasons (among others), decline flexible working as it stands. 

The strategy includes measures to improve access to employment rights information and there is mention of “advice hubs” with ACAS. 

Missed opportunity 

It is a missed opportunity that the report talks a lot about accessibility and inclusivity but doesn’t appear to add very much to the Equality Act 2010 or disabled workers’ rights. As long as sickness and capability procedures remain, disabled workers are going to continue to find themselves being managed out of work. 

Finally, it was interesting to note that the government failed to directly engage with the TUC and the TUC Disabled Workers Committee as part of the process. If you are looking to improve the workplace for disabled people, then you cannot overlook unions and their wealth of knowledge and experience. Nothing about us, without us. 

However, there is still a lot in this strategy to be hopeful about. Especially, if we view this as just the start of the process. Recognising barriers disabled workers face is a big step in the right direction. 

Blog by Linda Ford, Prospect Equal Opportunities Representative