50.Helping disabled people to become more work-ready is only part of closing the disability employment gap. Disabled people still face considerable challenges in securing employment. We heard that many employers are unsure of their Equality Act 2010 duties, or unwilling to make adjustments for disabled employees.131 Employers may also hold discriminatory or unhelpful attitudes about disabled people’s capabilities, and can struggle to understand how disabled people could fit in to their existing workforce.132
51.An important but easily overlooked element of changing attitudes is encouraging firms to retain staff with disabilities. Disability Rights UK explained “the significance of employment retention as a policy lever cannot be overstated”, suggesting it “is potentially more important than back to work programmes” in tackling the gap. The Work Foundation told us that a focus on retention could have the effect of “turning off the tap” of people leaving work and requiring state support.133 This points to a greater role for supporting employers to make adjustments, and to understand the practical challenges and potential benefits of employing disabled people.
52.The Disability Confident campaign was launched under the Coalition Government in 2013. It initially focused on influencing employer attitudes to disability, through signing up organisations as “members” or “partners”. In May 2016 there were 124 partners listed on the Department’s website, and, the Department told us, “over 500” campaign members.134
53.Mike Adams of the Essex Coalition of Disabled People, which provides a range of services to employers, told us that this kind of campaign was needed. He explained:
There is huge anxiety still in 2016 around etiquette and how to approach a disabled person. For me that is anathema to everything, but that is reality. Therefore what [employers] talk about is a conversational fear, worries about offending disabled people so, on the whole, they decide not to. That needs to change.135
We heard concerns, however, about the extent to which a campaign focused on attitudes would translate to employers actually taking on more disabled people. Witnesses told us that the campaign would do little to address ingrained discrimination by employers.136 Disability Rights UK noted that it was possible to be awarded Disability Confident accreditation “without actually employing a disabled person”.137 Analysis of members also revealed that many of the campaign partners operated in areas related to disability employment: for example, in supporting disabled people to find work. Such employers could be expected to be both relatively well-informed about employing disabled people already, and to perceive a business benefit to accreditation.138
54.We heard that the campaign needed a greater focus on employer behaviour and on employer responsibilities under the Equality Act, and would need to sign up a greater number and wider range of employers to make a noticeable impact.139 Mike Adams told us that putting forward a stronger and wider business case for employing disabled people through the campaign could play a key role in achieving both of these objectives.140 Scope, a disability charity, recommended that in the medium to longer-term, the Government should use insights from an evaluation of Disability Confident to develop its strategy for engaging employers.141
55.The Minister told us that the Department had recently relaunched Disability Confident. She explained the new scheme “has some teeth to it” and will function more like a “kite mark”.142 To reach the higher levels of accreditation, for example, businesses must be independently audited. She also told us that Disability Confident businesses will be given preference in government procurement; a move endorsed by some of our witnesses.143 The Department has also created a Disability Confident “Business Leaders Group”, intended to encourage “every business to take a proper look at the relationship between work and health, and what that means for their business and productivity”.144 The College of Occupational Therapists had told us that buy-in from senior business leaders was essential, suggesting that Disability Confident could develop into a series of “spin off campaigns by individual professions and employment/professional bodies”.145
Figure 8: Sample Disability Confident promotional poster
56.The Government has little prospect of halving the disability employment gap unless employers are fully committed to taking on and retaining more disabled people. The relaunched Disability Confident, the Government’s flagship campaign to promote disability employment to employers, needs to address many of the criticisms of the original campaign. It is currently too early to assess its impact. Much of whether it is successful, however, will depend on it developing a high profile, reaching and signing up large numbers of employers, and being seen as a valuable accreditation for businesses—including those who might not otherwise engage. To assess whether Disability Confident is meeting its objective of increasing disability employment, and to learn lessons for future employer engagement strategies, we recommend that the Department commission an evaluation of the campaign before 2020. This should take into account what changes members display in their hiring and employee retention behaviour, as well as establishing whether it is attracting a broad spectrum of employers.
57.The DWP’s main employer advice scheme is “Fit for Work”. Fit for Work offers occupational health assessments for employees who have been, or are expected to be, off work sick for a minimum of four weeks. It also offers a health at work advice telephone service for employers. Fit for Work was created in response to the recommendations of the two reviews on health and work led by Dame Carol Black in 2008 and 2011. It is intended to encourage “early positive intervention” to prevent employees from spending long periods of time on sick leave, or leaving work entirely.146 DWP has not yet published statistics on its performance. The Learning and Work Institute suggested, however, that take-up of the service has been quite low.147
58.Alongside Fit for Work, the green paper consults on the prospect of creating a “one-stop shop” for employers. The Minister told us this might look to consolidate “some of the evidence on the business case for change, as well as practical information [ … ] case studies, examples of reasonable adjustments [and] running awareness sessions”.148 The Minister told us that such a model could develop to provide opportunities for third-sector organisations who wanted to expand their work with employers.149
59.Witnesses told us that though there are many such third-sector organisations already providing valuable support to some employers in recruiting and retaining disabled people,150 wider employer awareness of the support that is on offer is often quite low.151 We also heard that there is a lack of easily accessible resources to direct employers towards organisations providing support in their local areas.152 Witnesses told us, therefore, that a “one-stop shop” or “hub” of information and guidance could be very useful.153
60.We heard, however, that simply giving employers information, case studies and generic guidance was unlikely to have a significant impact on recruitment and retention behaviour. ERSA emphasised that helping employers to access support and advice at a local level through such an initiative would be particularly important. They told us the employment support sector is likely to become more diffuse with the end of the large, centrally contracted Work Programme. They anticipate a shift towards greater localised provision.154 Signposting towards sources of practical information and support (which could be provided by local third-sector organisations) would be vitally important to ensuring that the service on offer to employers is useful.
The Business Disability Forum told us:
The most successful initiatives are those which provide targeted, practical and bespoke help to employers and to disabled people looking for and staying in work. Our headline recommendation is that there is much more for Government to do in making this type of support sufficiently and readily available to all employers and disabled people looking for work.155
Some witnesses linked this back to the need to make better use of existing expertise in the third sector, suggesting the Department formally commission support for employers in making adjustments, retaining disabled employees, and developing healthy workplaces generally.156
61.Financial support, such as that provided through Access to Work, is clearly important to helping disabled people move into and stay in work. We heard, however, that being able to access specialist, and if necessary, condition-specific, bespoke, practical advice is at least as important for employers who are seeking to take on or manage disabled employees. There is no shortage of organisations offering such support—but often employers are not aware of what is available, especially locally. We recommend that the Department proceed with implementing a “one-stop shop” for employers, which should be linked to Disability Confident. A central feature of this should be signposting towards local, specialist services (including those that deal with specific impairment types) that offer support on making adjustments and on other aspects of employment retention.
62.Publicity, guidance and support can only go so far, however. The evidence that we heard on Disability Confident suggested that ultimately, many employers will not seek out disabled employees unless they can see that it is in their business interests to do so. The Department has experimented on a small scale with providing financial incentives and support to employers to take on disabled people. In 2012, it announced a wage subsidy scheme associated with Work Choice, available to employers who recruited an 18–24 year old disabled person from the programme.157 The Department’s evaluation of the scheme found that there did not appear to be clear evidence of its benefits, and recommended that a review of further evidence might be conducted to see if financial incentives should form part of the future delivery model.158 More recently, in February 2016, the Department launched the Small Employer Offer pilot in three Jobcentres. After being members of the scheme for three months, employers can apply for a “Small Employer Payment”, which provides for measures such as training or mentoring related to disabled employees. Since January 2015, there has also been a tax exemption of up to £500 (per year, per employee), on medical treatments recommended by the Fit for Work service.159
63.Some witnesses told us that it was important to be careful about the message sent out through offering incentives. This was especially so where they related to employing disabled people in general, rather than to specific additional support costs. Jane Cordell, Director of Result CIC, a coaching and training company, told us that such systems, if not carefully targeted, can reinforce stereotypes of disabled people being a “burden”, and leave individual disabled people feeling “a bit like a prize—a victim of a shoot-out or something; my head on a stick—I bring my employer money”.160
64.We also heard more positive views of incentives, however, and several witnesses suggested these could be an important lever in improving disability employment rates. Dan Brooke, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Channel 4, told us:
I think financial incentives would also undoubtedly be effective. For example, some form of tax break for employing, up to a certain threshold, x% of your workforce that is disabled—that would motivate us an employer to employ even more disabled people, no question.161
Jane Cordell told us that the more disabled people are visible in workplaces and feel able to disclose their conditions openly, the greater the likelihood of creating a “virtuous circle” effect. Disability would become “such a boring issue that nobody notices it”, contributing to further reducing the barriers to work for disabled people.162 We received no firm, detailed proposals on how to take this forward, however. Concurring with the tentative conclusion of the DWP’s own evaluation of the Work Choice wage subsidy, Mencap told us that the Department should “undertake a review of the incentives for employers to take on disabled people and those with health conditions”.163 We also heard suggestions of possible international case studies that the Department might consider to see if any of the lessons were transferrable.164 For example, Ben Baumberg Geiger drew our attention to the Netherlands, where employers are required to “show that they have done everything possible” to keep a disabled person in work, or pay their sick pay for two years. This could go as far as finding them a different job in the company or its wider supply chain.165
65.Witnesses emphasised the need to match the highly ambitious nature of the Government’s aim to halve the gap with a similarly ambitious policy approach. The Department previously told us that its approach to employment support in Jobcentre Plus is intended to be experimental, trying out new models of provision in order to find out “what works”.166 We also heard that there are numerous schemes already running across the UK that might provide indications of what works best in supporting employers.
Steve Sherry, of Royal British Legion Industries, told us that a wider experimental approach was needed:
You should have some ambitious, radical and different programmes out there and see what really does work. Otherwise we will just be doing more of the same. If we do more of the same, we will get more of the same, which is not good enough.167
66.We welcome the Department’s measures to support employers of disabled people, such as the Small Employer Offer and the Fit for Work tax exemption scheme. We also recognise that where some forms of incentives, such as wage subsidies, have been trialled in the past, there has not been concrete evidence of success. Financial incentives could, however, encourage employers to undertake desirable behaviour, which in turn might encourage others and create a virtuous circle. It is clear that there is a great deal of interest in the role incentives for employers could play in tackling the disability employment gap, even if it is currently far from clear what sort of financial support package might work best in Britain.
67.We recommend the Department test a range of approaches to incentivising employers, using a collection of small trials. These should test, for example, the impact of wage subsidies, incentives such as relief on National Insurance Contributions, and commissioning external organisations to provide support and guidance directly to employers. The Department’s evaluations should consider the effects on different industries and different sizes of business. In finding out what does work, the Department must also be open to discovering what does not. Sticking to the same safe strategies will continue to bring the same results.
68.For too long, disabled people who want to work have lacked the support to enable them to do so. Developing a health condition or disability while in work has, too often, meant dropping out. Once unemployed, disabled people have faced obstacles both obtaining and staying in work. The large pool of unemployed disabled people who want to work is, however, a fantastic opportunity for the economy. We are pleased that the Government has recognised the imperative of halving the disability employment gap. We do not underestimate the scale of the challenge it now faces in making this vision a reality. The Government is aiming to achieve a reduction in the disability employment gap of a magnitude much greater than that seen in recent decades in the UK. Now is not the time for a cautious approach.
131 The Equality Act 2010 requires employers to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled employees. This might include changing the way in which employment is structured, removing physical barriers, and/or providing extra support to disabled employees or job applicants. See: Muscular Dystrophy UK Trailblazers (DEG0022), Professor Ralph Fevre and Dr Deborah Foster (DEG0066), Scope (DEG0069), College of Occupational Therapists (DEG0063), Macmillan Cancer Support (DEG0068), Equality and Human Rights Commission (DEG0089).
133 Disability Rights UK (DEG0041), The Work Foundation (DEG0094), Professor Ralph Fevre and Dr Deborah Foster (DEG0066), British Association for Supported Employment (DEG0033), Association of British Insurers (DEG0072), College of Occupational Therapists (DEG0063), National Autistic Society (DEG0060), Action for M.E. (DEG0031), Council for Work and Health (DEG0091), MS Society (DEG0062), Pluss (DEG0040), Joseph Rowntree Foundation (DEG0085), Scope (DEG0069), Business Disability Forum (DEG0042), Local Government Association (DEG0049), Equality and Human Rights Commission (DEG0089), Learning and Work Institute (DEG0086), Action on Hearing Loss (DEG0038)
136 Sense (DEG0065), Professor Ralph Fevre and Dr Deborah Foster (DEG0066), Trade Union Congress (DEG0055), Breakthrough UK (DEG0053), Salford Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service (DEG0064)
139 Professor Nicholas Bacon (DEG0074), Association of British Insurers (DEG0072), David Gillon (DEG0071), Sense (DEG0065), Pluss (DEG0040), College of Occupational Therapists (DEG0063), Inclusion Scotland (DEG0061), National Autistic Society (DEG0060), Breakthrough UK (DEG0053), Salford Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service (DEG0064), Kennedy Scott (DEG0056), National Deaf Children’s Society (DEG0057), Lampard School (DEG0082)
140 Q37, Q48 (Mike Adams), See also: Scope (DEG0069), Twist Partnership (DEG0054), United Response (DEG0030), Kennedy Scott (DEG0056), Essex County Council (DEG0051), Result CIC (DEG0078)
141 Scope (DEG0069). See also: Action on Hearing Loss (DEG0038), Professor Nicholas Bacon (DEG0074),
142 “Kitemark” is a UK product and service safety qualification mark.
143 Learning and Work Institute (DEG0086), Disability Rights UK (DEG0041), Joseph Rowntree Foundation (DEG0085)
144 HC Deb 31 October 2016, c667 (Damian Green); See also DWP (DEG0083)
146 Black, Working for a Healthier Tomorrow, Pp. 77–79; Black and Frost, Health at Work: An Independent Review of Sickness Absence. Para. 9–10.
147 Learning and Work Institute (DEG0086). A survey by Jelf Employee Benefits suggested that just 3% of employers had made a referral to the service.
148 DWP and DH, Improving lives, para. 168; Q167 (Penny Mordaunt)
150 See, for example, Q87 (Karen Walker-Bone), Q71 (Roy O’Shaughnessy), Q67 (Peter Bacon) National Autistic Society (DEG0060), Breakthrough UK (DEG0053), ERSA (DEG0087), Macmillan Cancer Support (DEG0068), Kennedy Scott (DEG0056)
151 Learning and Work Institute (DEG0086), Leonard Cheshire Disability (DEG0039), Scope (DEG0069), Association of British Insurers (DEG0072), ENABLE Scotland (DEG0029), Macmillan Cancer Support (DEG0068), MS Society (DEG0062), Essex County Council (DEG0051), National Deaf Children’s Society (DEG0057), Royal British Legion Industries (DEG0046), Papworth Trust (DEG0043)
152 Local Government Association (DEG0049), College of Occupational Therapists (DEG0063), Essex County Council (DEG0051), Action on Hearing Loss (DEG0038), Papworth Trust (DEG0043), Action on
153 Sense (DEG0065), British Association for Supported Employment (DEG0033), ERSA (DEG0087), Muscular Dystrophy UK Trailblazers (DEG0022),
155 Business Disability Forum (DEG0042), Q14 (George Selvanera). See also: Sense (DEG0065), Rethink Mental Illness (DEG0037), Shaw Trust (DEG0058), Joseph Rowntree Foundation (DEG0085), Remploy (DEG0075), Local Government Association (DEG0049), START Ability Services (DEG0079), Inclusion London (DEG0059), Action for M.E. (DEG0031), Breakthrough UK (DEG0053), United Response (DEG0030), Macmillan Cancer Support (DEG0068), Essex County Council (DEG0051), Papworth Trust (DEG0043), CLIC Sargent (DEG0035)
158 DWP, Evaluation of the Work Choice specialist disability employment programme, July 2013, p.21
159 DWP, Fit for Work: guidance for employers, December 2014
161 Q56 (Dan Brooke). See also: Q55 (Roy O’Shaughnessy), Q56 (Steve Sherry), Q47 (Mike Adams), Learning and Work Institute (DEG0086), Disability Rights UK (DEG0041), Remploy (DEG0075), Scope (DEG0069), College of Occupational Therapists (DEG0063), Inclusion Scotland (DEG0061), National Autistic Society (DEG0060), Breakthrough UK (DEG0053), Salford Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service (DEG0064), Mencap (DEG0084), Royal British Legion Industries (DEG0046)
162 Q48 (Jane Cordell): See also Result CIC (DEG0078), Trade Union Congress (DEG0055), Equality and Human Rights Commission (DEG0089)
164 Q42 (Mike Adams). Some European countries use financial incentives to a greater extent than others. For a summary, see: http://www.disability-europe.net/dotcom
165 Q21 (Ben Baumberg Geiger)
166 Work and Pensions Committee, The Future of Jobcentre Plus, para. 40
30 January 2017