9.The 2015 Conservative Party manifesto stated “we will aim to halve the disability employment gap”, by transforming “policy, practice and public attitudes”.27 The manifesto did not set a deadline for achieving this. A DWP press release in June 2015 did, however, state that the Government “aims to halve the gap between the disabled employment rate and the overall employment rate by 2020”.28 Questioned on whether the gap would indeed be halved by 2020, Penny Mordaunt MP, Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work (the Minister) denied that this had ever been the intention. She told us: “I know a couple of MPs have suggested that it was a 2020 target. It was clearly not a 2020 target”.29 The Department has clarified that it has a “10 year vision” for reform leading to halving the gap, telling us that “tackling [the gap] is a long-term project”.30
10.Witnesses told us that halving the gap is an ambitious aim, and doing so by 2020 would have been highly challenging.31 Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, for example, told us that:
The ambition is good and a bit like, ‘Would you say is it achievable for women to achieve equality?’ or something. Of course it is achievable. The question is the timeline.32
David Finch, Senior Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation think-tank, thought that “around 10 years” might be a more realistic timescale.33 Others pointed out that this would depend on the Department substantially accelerating its current rate of progress. Steve Sherry, Chief Executive of Royal British Legion Industries, which runs its own employment support services, cited research that showed that “at the current rates it might be achieved in 200-plus years”.34
11.The Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey (LFS) is the main survey that the Department uses in assessing the size of the disability employment gap, including in its green paper.35 The LFS measures self-reported disability.36 The Department told us that it would report on its progress towards halving the gap as required in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. This sets out an obligation for the Secretary of State to report annually on the Department’s progress towards “full employment”. It stated its first report will “set out a conceptual framework for full employment and the measures which will be used to monitor progress towards that aim”.37 The Department has repeatedly declined to set interim targets or milestones. It has argued that setting targets relating to a single measure such as the gap, measured through the LFS, would not necessarily accurately reflect the success or failure of policy.38 The Minister pointed out, for example, that the gap could be narrowed by a decrease in non-disabled people’s employment rates, but this would hardly be a desirable outcome.39 Some witnesses agreed with this point.40 The Minister told us that “over time” the Department would “develop some more meaningful measures over and above the Labour Force Survey”, and would look to map the support available in different local areas with a view to identifying what works in supporting disabled people into work. Beyond this, it was unclear what the new measurements might be and when they would be introduced.41
12.The Employment-Related Services Association (ERSA), a membership body for employment support providers, told us that targets that are too broad can incentivise unhelpful behaviour amongst service providers, particularly in relation to helping more disadvantaged people.42 Others argued they could be helpful: the Trade Union Congress (TUC) explained that targets have a place “insofar as they help monitor progress or where there is a shortfall”.43 We also received evidence suggesting that even where there is disagreement about the role of targets, consistent, detailed measuring and reporting in the shorter and medium-term is necessary given the long-term nature of the goal. Breakthrough UK, a disabled people-led organisation that provides employment support, told us that “what gets measured, gets done”.44 Victoria Wass, of Cardiff University Business School, stated that:
The measures that we have are not robust, they are not very strong. Unless we do have a better measure, we will not know whether we have made progress or not.45
Suggestions for measures that the Department should report on included:
Victoria Wass, along with Ben Baumberg Geiger and Melanie Jones, also academics with an interest in disability and labour market policy, told us that it is difficult to assess progress towards closing the gap if the survey questions change. The LFS question changed in 2010 and 2013. Any further changes would “make tracking the Government’s aspirations almost impossible”.50
Figure 4: Employment rates vary widely between people with different conditions
Variations in Employment Rates by Condition, Q4 2014
Source: DWP, Labour Force Analysis of disabled people by region and main health problem
13.The Department has to date chosen not to set absolute targets for reducing the disability employment gap, on the basis that it is sensitive to change for reasons other than the impact of policy. We understand this rationale. Clear reporting and measures of progress are, however, essential to keeping the goal of halving the gap in focus and ensuring transparency over whether and where progress is being made. This is especially so because halving the gap—and indeed, going beyond this where possible—is an ambition that will, in all likelihood, not be achieved by 2020. It is a long-term ambition that requires long-term thinking and a consistent approach. The Department can do much to lay the ground for this by introducing clear expectations, and detailed measurements and reporting standards now. Only through measuring outcomes will it be possible to identify and spread good practice.
14.We recommend the Department commit to gather data and report on a range of measures, including, but not limited to, those using the Labour Force Survey. It should report on measures of disabled people’s experiences of the quality of work, surveys using questions that give specific examples of mental or physical difficulties in carrying out day-to-day actions in determining whether an individual is “disabled”, and progress on reducing employment gaps for different conditions. It should also conduct research into how difficulties associated with different conditions have been surmounted.
15.As the Labour Force Survey is likely to remain the most widely-used measure of disability and the clearest means of tracking the Government’s progress, we recommend the ONS and DWP commit together to not making further changes to the Labour Force Survey question on disability for the next ten years, to enable consistent tracking over time.
16.Witnesses emphasised that efforts to narrow the disability employment gap cannot come from DWP alone.51 Karen Walker-Bone, of Arthritis Research UK, told us that that the Department of Health, in particular, should be “more responsible for work”.52 This draws on evidence of a positive relationship between being in appropriate work, and good health, which was widely observed by witnesses.53 The DWP told us working across Departments in recognition of this relationship is the purpose of the Work and Health Unit, which is sponsored by the DWP and Department of Health, and was allocated £115 million of funding in the 2015 Spending Review.54 The establishment of the Unit was welcomed by many witnesses.55
17.We heard, however, that a broader cross-departmental approach is needed. Some of the challenges that disabled people face in moving into and progressing in work go beyond the DWP’s remit. For example, to be able to move between jobs in different parts of the country, disabled people may need support in finding accessible housing, or transferring a care package from one local authority to another.56 Difficulty in navigating and accessing these services can result in disabled people being unable to take up employment opportunities. Remploy told us:
The ambition is more likely to be achieved if it is a shared objective across government. The basis of this should be strong and clear messaging across all department and agencies that halving the disability employment gap is a Government priority and that work is a positive outcome.57
Disability Rights UK concurred that delivering the target “will require cross department interventions”. The Department of Health, Department for Education, Department for Communities and Local Government, and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) were all identified as having important roles to play, alongside the DWP.58 Some of these Departments already have initiatives underway that relate to closing the gap. For example, BEIS and DWP commissioned the Paul Maynard Taskforce on improving access to apprenticeships for young disabled people in 2015. Witnesses told us that a wider strategic approach would be necessary to co-ordinate, focus and enhance initiatives across Departments that relate to closing the gap. Scope called for a “national strategy for supporting disabled people to enter and sustain employment”. This could be led and co-ordinated through the Office for Disability Issues or Equality and Human Rights Commission (with appropriate funding), or by an external tsar with a cross-departmental remit.59 Breakthrough UK contended that the “lack of an effective, well thought through disability employment strategy and plan is at the root of the continuing employment gap”.60 The DWP produced its own strategy on disability and health, in 2013. This, however, focused on programmes within the Department.61
18.Achieving the Government’s ambitions on the disability employment gap will require a sustained commitment from a range of different agencies, Departments and external stakeholders beyond the DWP. Businesses have a vital leadership role to play, and bringing in health and education services is also of great importance. It is important that efforts are co-ordinated to ensure that all of those involved are working consistently towards the same goal. We recommend that the Government publish a Disability Employment Strategy, building on the outcome of the green paper consultation. This would bring together the initiatives already announced that relate to halving the gap, build on them, and ensure that this seen as a shared, long-term objective and priority across all relevant Departments. It should then commission an annual report on progress towards meeting its strategic goals, drawing on the improved monitoring that we recommend.
27 Conservative Party, 2015 manifesto, p.19
30 DWP and DH, Improving lives, para. 11; DWP (DEG0083)
31 Learning and Work Institute (DEG0086), Disability Rights UK (DEG0041), Leonard Cheshire Disability (DEG0039), Joseph Rowntree Foundation (DEG0085), Remploy (DEG0075), Scope (DEG0069), Papworth Trust (DEG0043), Business Disability Forum (DEG0042), British Association for Supported Employment (DEG0033), United Response (DEG0030)
35 DWP and DH, Improving lives, para. 22
36 The current LFS question on disability asks: “Does your condition or illness reduce your ability to carry out day-to-day activities? Answers: Yes, a little; Yes, a lot; and Not at all”. See Ben Baumberg Geiger, Melanie Jones and Victoria Wass (DEG0023) for previous wordings of the question.
38 Q110 (Penny Mordaunt), HC Deb 31 October 2016, c675 (Damian Green)
42 ERSA (DEG0087). See also: Salford Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service (DEG0064), Joseph Rowntree Foundation (DEG0085), Local Government Association (DEG0049), Dimensions UK (DEG0018), People First Scotland (DEG0007)
43 Trade Union Congress (DEG0055), See also: START Ability Services (DEG0079), Association of British Insurers (DEG0072), College of Occupational Therapists (DEG0063), Inclusion Scotland (DEG0061), National Autistic Society (DEG0060), Inclusion London (DEG0059), Disability Rights UK (DEG0041), Action for M.E. (DEG0031), Salvation Army (DEG0027), Blind in Business (DEG0017), Gary Denton (DEG0015)
44 Breakthrough UK (DEG0053). See also: Scope (DEG0069), ENABLE Scotland (DEG0029), Salvation Army (DEG0027), Dimensions UK (DEG0018), Remploy (DEG0075), Council for Work and Health (DEG0091), Aspiedent CIC (DEG0077), British Association for Supported Employment (DEG0033)
46 Remploy (DEG0075), Inclusion Scotland (DEG0061), National Autistic Society (DEG0060), United Response (DEG0030), ENABLE Scotland (DEG0029), Royal National Institute of Blind People (DEG0025), Blind in Business (DEG0017), People First Scotland (DEG0007), Equality and Human Rights Commission (DEG0089), Scope (DEG0069)
48 Ben Baumberg Geiger, Melanie Jones and Victoria Wass (DEG0023), Inclusion Scotland (DEG0061), Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) (DEG0087), Scope (DEG0069)
51 Disability Rights UK (DEG0041), Scope (DEG0069), Remploy (DEG0075), Council for Work and Health (DEG0091), Macmillan Cancer Support (DEG0068), MS Society (DEG0062), Centrepoint, Crisis, ERSA, Homeless Link, St Mungos, The Salvation Army (DEG0036), Learning and Work Institute (DEG0086), CareTrade Charitable Trust (DEG0029), Lampard School (DEG0082)
53 Disability Rights UK (DEG0041), Leonard Cheshire Disability (DEG0039), Joseph Rowntree Foundation (DEG0085), College of Occupational Therapists (DEG0063), Council for Work and Health (DEG0091), MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow (DEG0073), Essex County Council (DEG0051), Royal British Legion Industries (DEG0046), The Work Foundation (DEG0094), MS Society (DEG0062), Lampard School (DEG0082)
58 Remploy (DEG0075). Macmillan Cancer Support (DEG0068), Disability Rights UK (DEG0041), Learning and Work Institute (DEG0086), CareTrade Charitable Trust (DEG0029), Council for Work and Health (DEG0091), Centrepoint, Crisis, ERSA, Homeless Link, St Mungos, The Salvation Army (DEG0036),
60 Scope (DEG0069), Breakthrough UK (DEG0053). See also: Remploy (DEG0075), Disability Rights UK (DEG0041), MS Society (DEG0062), Professor Ralph Fevre and Dr Deborah Foster (DEG0066), Pluss (DEG0040), Local Government Association (DEG0049)
30 January 2017