79.Under the Equality Act 2010, employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled employees, including people with physical and mental health conditions, do not face disadvantage when doing their job. DWP’s guidance for employers on supporting disabled employees says that reasonable adjustments can include modifying or acquiring specialist equipment to help the employee do their job; making changes to the employee’s working pattern; or making adjustments to the premises to ensure that they are accessible for all.
80.Section 6 of the Act says that a person has a disability if they have “a physical or mental impairment” which has “a substantial and long-term adverse effect” on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities. Mind, a mental health charity, has said that many employees with mental health problems have been left with a “lack of clarity” about whether the provisions in the Equality Act apply to them because of how the Act defines disability. It said:
Mind’s (2019) survey of almost 2,000 people with mental health problems revealed issues with both the requirement for a mental health problem to be long-term and the language in the definition describing the impact of disability. Both leave many people with a lack of clarity about whether they are protected by the law when at work.
We found that there was a lack of clarity about the language used in the definition of disability and how it related to them. The key themes were that: it was difficult to know if the effect of a mental health problem was ‘substantial’ enough; language around ability to do an activity doesn’t apply well to mental health; effects of mental health problems can fluctuate or be episodic.
Mind recommends that the Government should amend the definition of disability in the Act so that it better reflects the experiences of people with mental illness and publish statutory guidance about reasonable adjustments. The Vocational Rehabilitation Association said that the requirement that a person’s impairment must be “substantial” is “very much open to interpretation”.
81.We also heard that many employers do not have a good understanding of reasonable adjustments or how to implement them. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which represents HR professionals, said that there should be better dissemination of guidance for employers on how to make reasonable adjustments, including supportive workplace changes that are not covered by their statutory responsibility. It said that there is a need to “shift the negative misconception about adjustments being onerous and costly” and that many adjustments “can be simple and low-cost, and can make an enormous difference to enabling people to perform to their full potential”. Angela Matthews of the Business Disability Forum, a not-for-profit organisation whose membership comprises disabled people and employers, told us that some employers lack understanding of what constitutes a “reasonable” adjustment. She said:
Generally, we find with the businesses we work with that the idea—the concept—that you make reasonable adjustments for disabled people is generally understood. However, in terms of assessing what is reasonable, that is where knowledge seems to lack a little bit and also where confidence lacks a bit as well. Also, agreeing and coming to what reasonable adjustments might work is a collaborative conversation ideally between the employee and the employer. However, assessing what is reasonable is very much an employer’s process.
82.Clare Gray of the Shaw Trust, an employment support organisation, told us that the law on reasonable adjustments is not always well enforced. She said that the Equality Act has “no teeth”, and that she hoped that the Government, in its forthcoming National Strategy for Disabled People, would set out measures for improving the enforcement of its provisions on reasonable adjustments. During our engagement event, we heard from a member of the public with multiple sclerosis who told us that her employer had been unwilling to make reasonable adjustments when she had asked for them. She recommended that employers who fail to make such adjustments should be held accountable, saying:
I tried not to move around too much but I was asked to make sure that I walk up and down the stairs with documents. And I mentioned several times that this was just not appropriate, like I’m just in too much pain to be walking up and down the stairs, and that’s just one example of the things that my employer has just not understood.
My company is a fairly large employer. They’re a very successful wealth management company and so with regards to things that they could put in place, resources are not really an issue, they’re a very successful company. […] Maybe it’s just the sector that I’m in, but accountability I think would be crucial.
83.Some people we spoke to said that their employers had not been willing to make reasonable adjustments: one person with an energy-limiting condition, for example, told us that their employer had not allowed them to work reduced hours. This experience, however, was not shared by all participants. One participant told us that that their employer had been “really good” at putting adjustments in place, but that they feared what would happen if they needed to seek work elsewhere:
My employers Bostik have been really really good, they’ve been amazing. I work on the first floor, legally I think they had to do it anyway, but they built me a lift, they made all the doors have just a touch button rather than me having to open them. I’ve had occupational health in my office to make sure it all works for me […] however if for any godforsaken reason I lost my job, I would be really worried about applying for a new job because of my disability.
84.We asked the Minister what role the Department plays in helping employers meet their obligations under the Equality Act and whether, in his view, the law should be strengthened. He suggested that improving employers’ awareness of their legal obligations could help improve enforcement, and that the Department planned to look at these issues in the Green Paper on health and disability support. The Green Paper, however, does not contain any provisions about improving understanding or enforcement of reasonable adjustments in the workplace.
85.The RNID, a charity that supports Deaf people and people with hearing loss, told us that there is a “substantive gap in the provision of information to employers about disability”. It recommends that the Government should introduce an online hub with information and guidance for employers on supporting disabled employees. Rob Geaney of the RNID told us that this should include guidance on making reasonable adjustments:
We have been arguing now for a couple of years that the Government should create an online employer information hub, which is well advertised, contains lots of information around employment disability law, guides on individual conditions, signposting to other organisations and just very simple steps to help make reasonable adjustments. I know a website is not that easy, but it does not seem like an incredibly difficult thing to do, therefore we are not quite sure why the Government have not taken that small step, which just addresses the barriers that all of us have identified.
86.We asked the Minister whether the Department had considered establishing an online information hub in a similar vein to that recommended by the RNID. He expressed his support for the concept of a “centralised, easy-to-access hub” and said that it is his intention to “drive forward” work on this. Angus Gray, Director for Employers, Health and Inclusive Employment at DWP, said that work on developing the hub is currently underway and that he expected it to go live “in the next two or three months”—that is, by July or August 2021. The Government’s response to the Health is everyone’s business consultation, published on 20 July 2021, says that it will: “develop a national information and advice service for employers on health, work and disability, with material designed to help manage common health and disability events in the workplace. This will be developed with the needs of SMEs in mind.” It says that the Government has been working with employers to understand their needs, and that “this is informing design work during 2021.” It is not clear when the service will be available. The Department set out further details of its plans for developing a national online advice service in its response to the Health is everyone’s business consultation (see below), published in July 2021.
87.We heard from disabled people and disability organisations that some employers simply don’t understand their legal obligations to provide reasonable adjustments, whilst others continue to flout the law deliberately. The way in which disability is defined in the Equality Act has also left some employers and employees unclear about how its provisions apply. The Government has a clear role to play in ensuring that employers understand what their obligations are and that employees are aware of what protections are available to them.
88.The introduction of an online information hub for employers is an initial step in the right direction. We urge the Government to ensure that its information and advice service goes live as planned no later than August 2021. DWP must ensure that this hub contains clear guidance for employers about their legal obligation to provide reasonable adjustments and about how to implement them. It should also provide guidance to employers about interpreting the definition of disability in the Equality Act, with a particular focus on how its provisions apply to people with mental health conditions. We were encouraged to hear that some employers have taken positive steps to support disabled employees but remain concerned that not all employers are taking their responsibilities seriously. The Government should also consider adopting more severe punitive measures, such as “naming and shaming”, for employers who continue to breach the law.
89.Access to Work is a publicly funded employment support programme that provides practical advice and support to disabled people and their employers to help them overcome work-related obstacles resulting from disability. Access to Work was launched in June 1994 by the Department for Social Security, the predecessor of the Department for Work and Pensions, and it is delivered through Jobcentre Plus and available to those aged 16 and over. There are two main types of Access to Work provision: assessments and elements. Assessments involve exploring workplace-related barriers to employment and making recommendations on how these can be overcome, whilst elements are measures that are put in place to provide the additional support that a participant requires. Examples of elements one might receive include:
90.From 2007 to 2017, the Department published statistics on Access to Work quarterly. These statistics included data on the number of participants on the scheme broken down by impairment groups and the types of support and equipment that they received. In September 2017, however, the Department announced that it would be publishing a new series of Access to Work statistics and withdrawing the previous publications. In its announcement, DWP said that the new statistics would be published annually, despite statistics on several benefits that disabled people can claim, such as Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, and Employment and Support Allowance, being reported quarterly. In its announcement the Department did not give a reason for its decision, and it has published Access to Work statistics annually since the October 2017 release.
91.The Minister told us that “record” numbers of people—44,000—are currently benefiting from Access to Work. Some organisations also spoke positively about the scheme. The British Association for Supported Employment (BASE) said the programme is “widely admired across Europe” and that it has the potential to be “world-beating”. Sense described the scheme as being “excellent” and “truly beneficial to supporting disabled people into work”, and the Trades Union Congress said that Access to Work grants are “crucial for disabled people to overcome the barriers they face in accessing employment”.
92.We heard, however, that despite its advantages, the scheme does not always work as effectively as it could in practice. Some organisations told us that many employers are not aware that Access to Work exists. Research carried out by Citizens Advice in 2018 found that only 33% of employers knew a “great deal or a fair amount” about Access to Work. It also found that awareness of the scheme varied by sector, with only 22% of line managers and employers in the hospitality sector knowing “a fair amount” about the scheme, compared to an average of 41% of all employers. The Glasgow Disability Alliance, a disabled persons’ organisation, also said that DWP needed to promote the Access to Work programme more effectively, and make it easier for employers and employees to obtain support. Mencap, a charity that supports people with learning disabilities, agreed, and said that the programme was “hugely beneficial” for people with learning disabilities, but that the Government needed to raise the profile of Access to Work with employers and employees to make them aware of the support that is available. In its response to the Health is everyone’s business consultation, the Department committed to promoting Access to Work further, including by writing to Disability Confident employers, and by:
Working with stakeholders, partners and employer associations to raise awareness through communications to their customers, and ensuring advisers who work with potential customers, including Jobcentre Plus, health professionals and advisory groups, have the information and tools to act as advocates.
93.Others described the application process as both bureaucratic and time consuming. Matthew Harrison of Mencap described Access to Work as “almost like a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde situation”, as the scheme can be “brilliant” when it works, but the application process is bureaucratic and paper-based. A disabled person who submitted evidence to our inquiry said:
Whilst DWP and the Access to Work program do provide significant support to the disabled community, there are inherent challenges with the delivery methods, and the application processes which create barriers to employment.
Fazilet Hadi of Disability Rights UK, herself a user of Access to Work, described herself as a “complete advocate” for the scheme, but criticised it for being too bureaucratic:
There is a feeling that you are trying to get something you are not entitled to. There are far too many forms; there is far too much bureaucracy. They are not quick, and they have not moved with the times. I have nothing to say in terms of praise for the way it is administered.
I have been using Access to Work for 30 years, so I think I know what I need from it. Also, I don’t get any sense that disabled people are involved in it or co-produce the way it is delivered. Why not? We are the main users. Why aren’t we given a seat at a top table in terms of shaping how it is delivered?
94.People who receive support under Access to Work have that support reviewed every three years. Versus Arthritis, a charity that supports people with arthritis, said that this can lead to a “worst case scenario” where a person’s support under Access to Work is “cut off out of the blue”. It highlighted the case of a person who had found out that their support had been stopped even though their support requirements not changed, meaning that they needed to reapply. One disabled person from our engagement event described the review process to us:
My particular eye condition, like Participant A’s condition it’s degenerative. Why do I have to go through that every 3 years? […] So every 3 years I have to jump a hoop for something that is not going to get better. […] Now I have to jump through the hoop in a few months’ time to get the support again, and I can’t ask a consultant to write a letter because I’m not seen by one, because they can’t do anything more for me, and my GP who supported my last application, all he wrote was ‘visually impaired since 2006.’ So I’m dreading come September.
95.We raised these concerns with the Minister when he gave evidence. He described Access to Work as “an analogue system in a digital world”, and acknowledged that the journey time from application to decision—an average of 20 days—” itself creates a barrier”. He told us that, in the most recent Spending Review, the Department had secured £5 million of funding for a “digital transformation” of Access to Work, which is currently in progress.
96.BASE told us that, since DWP had introduced call centres to handle applications, the programme had become “more bureaucratic and problematic”, with problems plaguing the application process and communications with DWP staff. It said that it had “engaged with DWP for four years to seek improvements”, but that it had “been met with a defensive attitude that borders on a denial of any problems”. In its 2014 report, Improving Access to Work for disabled people, our predecessor Committee in the 2010 Parliament also criticised DWP’s decision to route all telephone calls relating to Access to Work through its central call centre. It said:
Service users were not consulted on the recently introduced central call centre system and were not told in advance about the change; consequently it was poorly implemented and does not currently work well, particularly for those users who require support to take a telephone call or greater certainty about when a call from an Adviser will be received.
97.That Committee recommended that DWP should “take urgent steps to address the ineffectiveness of the central call centre system” and to make it “more flexible and user-friendly”. In its response to the report, the Department said that it had “improved contact centre scripts” and “developed a closer working between contact centre staff and Access to Work advisers to improve the end-to-end journey”. Despite this, we heard evidence that people are still experiencing problems with the call centre when applying. A participant in our engagement event said that frequent changes in call centre staff caused delays to the process:
Now you will never get the same adviser; you could be passed to anywhere in the country. Everyone is helpful but you have to start the whole process all over again. As I am working with a lot of people, let’s suppose I had a claim for [a client] and I had a claim for [a different client]. I can’t speak to the same adviser. I would have to speak to one adviser [for the first client], and then I’d have to close that process and start another process for [the second client]. That never used to be the case, and again that’s recently changed and is very, very frustrating.
98.The Minister also told us that the Department plans to introduce an Access to Work “passport” for some groups of people. The passport, which will initially be available to disabled students, students in special education, veterans, and an unconfirmed fourth category, is designed to give applicants certainty about what type of support they can receive from Access to Work while they are applying for jobs. Currently, disabled people can only apply after they have received a job offer. The Minister said:
We are telling them about the scheme in advance, clearing as much of the information gathering as possible so they can have as much certainty as possible as they go to interviews as to what sort of support they can get.
You can never give 100% because the type of support you might need may differ from one employer to another. Different employers have different physical buildings, access or support already in place. […] If they work—and I would be very surprised if they did not—this will then be rolled out and become the norm for Access to Work, and that will significantly increase awareness.
In its Health and Disability Green Paper, the Department said that it will be possible to update the passports continually as participants’ needs change, helping to assist understanding by the employer and to ensure that the relevant support is put in place. The Department said that this will provide “greater flexibility” to participants and will “reduce the need for repeated workplace assessments” if a participant starts a new job.
99.We heard that the length of time it takes to complete an Access to Work claim can create difficulties for disabled people who are looking for work or about to start a new job. Martin Sigsworth, a Senior Employment Manager at the Thomas Pocklington Trust, a charity that supports blind and partially sighted people, told us that he supported the creation of an Access to Work passport, not just for people who are out of work but for disabled people in employment who may move between jobs in the future and require the same equipment. A support worker who took part in our engagement event said that the time taken to complete the application process can create difficulties for applicants:
I’ve been using Access to Work for 15 years now […] One of the frustrating things is that they are fantastic but it’s the time of turnover of the response now. So let’s suppose I was working with [a client] now and we had an interview for tomorrow – I’ve got to apply for it online and it takes up to 3 weeks to get a response back. That’s only a response, that’s not saying that the funding is going to be put into place, that’s someone from Access to Work to get in contact with me and then I put the claim in. It’s a very, very long process.
100.Some disability organisations have spoken positively about the Access to Work scheme: when it works, it can be a vital source of support for disabled people in work. We have consistently heard, however, several reoccurring criticisms of the scheme from disability organisations and disabled people alike. We have heard that awareness of the scheme amongst disabled people and employers is low; that the scheme is poorly promoted; and that the application process is difficult, time consuming, and bureaucratic. The Minister acknowledged these problems and said that he was determined to address them. In its Green Paper, the Department recognised that the Access to Work application process can be burdensome. It also invited views on what more it can do to improve disabled people’s employment opportunities through the scheme; it must use this as a basis for carrying out reform of Access to Work. To raise awareness of the scheme, which remains unacceptably low, the Department should launch a marketing campaign targeted at employers and at disabled people who are in, or applying for, work. The Department should also return to publishing statistics on Access to Work quarterly, in line with the publication of statistics on several other benefits that disabled people can claim, instead of annually. DWP should also redesign the application process to make it more streamlined and reduce the amount of information that applicants are expected to provide. It should ensure that disabled people are given the opportunity to co-design the new application process. The Department should also reduce the frequency of reviews, especially for people with long-term health conditions or stable employment, and ensure that people with an upcoming review are notified well in advance.
101.The Minister also told us that that the application process for Access to Work, which is currently paper-based, will undergo a “digital transformation” this year. This is long overdue, and we look forward to seeing how this work progresses. The Department must ensure, however, that as the service goes digital, people with low digital literacy receive the support they need to access it.
102.Support from Access to Work is only available for disabled people once they have been offered a job. This means that disabled people who are looking for work face uncertainty about whether they will receive the support they need, should they find a job, and that if they do, there is a period of waiting to find out what support they will receive. We heard that this delay and uncertainty can discourage employers from hiring disabled candidates.
103.The Minister said that the Department intends to pilot “passports” for jobseekers from particular groups, including students and veterans, which we welcome. These passports are intended to give job applicants certainty about what support they can receive through Access to Work before they have been offered a job. We recommend that, should the pilot be successful, DWP should extend eligibility for these passports to other groups of people. It should also introduce a passport for disabled employees who are currently receiving support under Access to Work so that, if they apply for a job with another employer, their prospective new employer has certainty about what support they are entitled to and they do not need to go through the application process again. This would help to reduce the unnecessary bureaucracy applicants face.
104.Our predecessor Committee recommended that the Department should improve the effectiveness of the Access to Work central call centre system. In response, the Department said that it recognised the importance of taking action to correct the issues with the system. We have heard, however, that problems accessing support through the central call centre still persist. We reiterate our predecessor Committee’s recommendation that the Department should immediately take action to rectify the problems with the call centre system.
105.Disability Confident is a Government programme which aims to influence, promote, and educate employers on the benefits of recruiting and retaining disabled employees. Launched in November 2016, the aims of the scheme are to:
As of 4 June 2021, over 20,800 employers had signed up to the Disability Confident scheme. The Minister told us that over 11.2 million employees work for a Disability Confident employer. Members of Parliament have promoted the scheme, which has raised awareness of the difficulty that disabled workers often have in gaining access to employment.
106.Disability Confident has three levels: Disability Confident Committed (level 1), Disability Confident Employer (level 2) and Disability Confident Leader (level 3). Employers must complete each level before being given accreditation to move on to the next. Accreditation at each level lasts for 3 years; if, however, an employer progresses to a higher level during that time, then the 3-year period will restart at the new level. If an employer reaches the end of the 3-year period without progressing then they can apply to have their accreditation renewed. To become Disability Confident Committed, an employer must agree to the Disability Confident commitments which are:
In addition, an employer must agree to carry out an “activity that will make a difference for disabled people”. This includes a commitment to offering at least one disabled person at least one of the following work opportunities: work experience, a work trial, paid employment, an apprenticeship, a job shadowing opportunity, a traineeship, a paid internship, a student placement or a sector-based work academy placement.
107.To become a Disability Confident Employer, an employer must complete a self-assessment, testing their organisation against a set of statements about employing disabled people. This includes detailing the actions that the employer has taken to make their workplace more inclusive for disabled people, and the additional steps the employer may still need to take. As part of the self-assessment, employers must also submit evidence against each statement to demonstrate how they have made their workplace more inclusive for disabled people. Disability Confident Leader accreditation requires an employer to submit their self-assessment for independent validation to check that the employer has met the requirements of the previous two levels. Employers must also commit to using the Voluntary Reporting Framework to report the percentage of individuals within their organisation who identify as disabled or have a mental health condition. Of the employers who had signed up to the scheme on 4 June 2021, 16,751 were Disability Confident Committed, 3,704 were Disability Confident Employers and 356 were Disability Confident Leaders.
108.Our inquiry’s call for evidence invited views on the effectiveness of the Disability Confident scheme in encouraging employers to employ and retain disabled employees. Several contributors expressed scepticism about the impact that the scheme has had on reducing the disability employment gap. Tom Pollard, an Independent Policy Expert and former policy adviser at DWP, said that Disability Confident has had “little meaningful impact on employment opportunities or experiences for disabled people”. Lord Shinkwin, Chair of the Centre for Social Justice Disability Commission, agreed that the scheme was not making any measurable impact on increasing the number of disabled people in work. He said:
I have to be honest with you: no, it is not making a measurable impact. Even those employers who participate in the scheme told the DWP in November 2018—a survey that it conducted by telephone—that they do not know how much of a difference it has made in terms of whether they have recruited an additional disabled person. There is a lot of warm mood music, which has its place, but in terms of measurable outcomes, that is one of the reasons why employers—but particularly disabled people—do not have confidence in Disability Confident.
109.The British Association for Supported Employment described the scheme as simply being “a numbers game” with “inadequate reporting, monitoring and support”. Many organisations took the same view. We heard that the criteria for accreditation at each level are not robust or challenging enough for employers, with it being possible for employers to be awarded the highest level of Disability Confident accreditation without having to employ a single disabled person. Clare Gray, Organisational Lead for Disability Advocacy at the Shaw Trust, told us that many disabled people feel that their experience with Disability Confident employers is no different than that of employers without accreditation. She said:
Something I am very mindful of from the disabled people I speak to is that, having approached a Disability Confident employer, their experience has not been any different than it would be for somebody who did not have that accreditation or that badge, so to speak. While it does have its place and it is good for getting organisations’ interest in disability and helping them through those stages of building that inner disability confidence, there is still some way to go in getting better measurement of the effectiveness of the commitments that those employers sign up to.
110.Disability organisations including Scope, Unity Works, Sense, and the MS Society also raised concerns about holding employers taking part on the scheme to account and ensuring that they are fulfilling their obligations. The organisations blamed the lack of accountability on the overreliance on self-certification as a means of awarding employers Disability Confident accreditation. In oral evidence, James Taylor, Executive Director of Strategy, Impact and Social Change at Scope, echoed these concerns:
The scheme has been viewed as being too reliant on the employer’s own self-assessment. I know there is some assessment from external organisations like charities or disabled people’s organisations when you reach those top tiers, but there is a lot of reliance on the employer’s own self-assessment of how well they are doing at employing disabled people. Some anecdotal evidence that we have had from disabled people over the past couple of months and years has suggested that their employers have not been particularly supportive of them, despite being signed up to the Disability Confident scheme.
111.Some witnesses, including Rob Geaney of RNID, Martin Sigsworth of the Thomas Pocklington Trust, and Daniel Jennings of Epilepsy Action, expressed their support for the creation of an independent objective assessor that would have responsibility for assessing whether employers have fulfilled their Disability Confident obligations before awarding accreditation. We asked the Minister for Disabled People whether there is a role for a robust external assessor to be responsible for awarding accreditation to employers. He told us that the Department would explore the issue of accountability in the Health and Disability Green Paper:
We expect employers to undertake a series of significant activities that would, therefore, benefit people with disabilities or health conditions. We are increasingly being robust in that area at the higher tiers, working with the business leaders advisory group, and as we talk to stakeholders during the health and disability Green Paper we will explore what more needs to be done on that.
[…] At those higher levels, where the real prestige is, we will have to make sure people are following the actions we expect of them, as we have done on the voluntary framework reporting.
112.The Minister also told us that the Department can refuse accreditation at the renewal stage (every three years) if an employer has not met their commitments, and that the Department will explore this issue further in the Health and Disability Green Paper.
113.Following our oral evidence session on 19 May 2021, we wrote to the Minister asking if there were any circumstances in which the Department would consider removing accreditation from Disability Confident employers who were failing to meet their obligations. In his response, he told us that there is a complaints process which sets out the actions that should be taken against employers who are failing to comply with Disability Confident criteria:
In the event that an employer has failed to take adequate steps to resolve an issue, and there is clear evidence the employer is not applying the policies and practices of the Disability Confident scheme, DWP has the right to suspend the Disability Confident status of the employer until they have taken necessary action, and ultimately remove or downgrade Disability Confident status.
The Minister told us that, at the time of writing. the Department had not ever had to remove or downgrade accreditation from any Disability Confident employer.
114.Our predecessor Committee’s report on the Disability employment gap, published in February 2017, looked at the effectiveness of Disability Confident in improving employers’ attitudes and recruitment practices towards disabled people. That Committee’s report recommended the Department should commission an evaluation of Disability Confident before 2020 to assess whether the scheme is achieving its objectives. In response to that report, the Department agreed to carry out an evaluation of the scheme. In July 2018, in response to a Parliamentary Question, the Department said that it was currently developing proposals for an evaluation. However, no proposals were announced before 2020 and the Department is still yet to commission an evaluation of Disability Confident.
115.To assess whether Disability Confident is meeting its objectives of increasing disability employment and changing employers’ attitudes and recruitment practices, our predecessor Committee recommended that DWP should commission an evaluation of Disability Confident by 2020. DWP accepted the recommendation and in July 2018 said that it was developing proposals for an evaluation. The evaluation, however, is yet to be announced. In response to this report, the Department should urgently announce its plans to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of the Disability Confident scheme, and commit to a specific timetable for this evaluation.
116.By the Department’s own admission, it is not possible to know whether Disability Confident is having any meaningful beneficial impact on the employment prospects of disabled people. As part of its evaluation, the Department should explore ways in which it can measure the success of the Disability Confident scheme. This should include, but not be limited to, a mandatory requirement for employers at levels 2 and 3 to routinely publish the percentage of disabled individuals working in their organisations through the Government’s Voluntary Reporting Framework. Employers should also be required to notify the Government when they have signed up to the framework.
117.As part of its evaluation, to improve the effectiveness of the scheme, we recommend that the Department should establish an independent body to carry out objective external assessments of Disability Confident employers at levels 2 and 3 to monitor whether they are fulfilling their obligations. The Department should consider what action it could take against employers that are failing to meet their Disability Confident requirements.
118.We heard evidence that the Disability Confident Commitments (the criteria an employer must agree to in order to receive Level 1 accreditation) are not challenging enough for employers and focus too heavily on changing recruitment processes rather than committing employers to recruit and retain disabled employees. We also heard that employers can be awarded Disability Confident accreditation without having to recruit a single disabled person. As part of its evaluation, we recommend that the Department should consider whether the existing Disability Confident commitments, and the criteria at subsequent levels, is sufficiently challenging and encourages meaningful change from employers. We recommend that any new commitments should include a requirement for Disability Confident employers to recruit disabled people before being awarded a higher level of accreditation.
119.Alongside the Department of Health (now the Department of Health and Social Care), DWP launched a consultation, Health is everyone’s business: proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss, in July 2019. The consultation closed in October 2019, and the Department published the consultation outcome on 20 July 2021, alongside the Green Paper.
120.In its consultation paper, the Government said that “significant intervention” is required to help disabled people and people with health conditions stay in work. It cited research which found that disabled people are ten times more likely to leave work following long-term sickness absence (that is, when an employee is unable to work for at least four weeks because of injury or ill health) than non-disabled people. It invited views on a set of proposals aimed at reducing the number of people who lose their jobs because of ill health; these include reforming Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), improving occupational health provision, including ensuring that the market for occupational health is “able to deliver quality, cost-effective services to employers of all sizes”, and making changes to the legal framework, such as introducing a “right to request” workplace modifications for people who are not covered under the duty to make legal adjustments in the Equality Act.
121.The consultation response set out which of these options the Departments have decided to take forward, and how. For example:
a)Improving access to occupational health (OH) services. The Government says that it intends to trial a subsidy for SMEs purchasing OH services, as smaller businesses are much less likely to have access to occupational health.
b)Strengthening guidance to help give employers clarity on their responsibilities to disabled employees. The Government proposes a new role for the Health and Safety Executive, working with other arm-length bodies to produce non-statutory guidance. It also says the HSE will “explore” introducing statutory guidance in this area.
c)Improving provision of information and advice to employers. Respondents to the consultation told the Government that they trusted information from central Government, but that “the current offer is fragmented, hard to navigate, and difficult to apply in practice”. The Department says it has been talking to employers to “understand their needs”, and that this will inform development work on a national information and advice service during 2021.
The Department decided not to progress with implementing a “right to request” workplace modifications, which would have covered people who are not covered by the Equality Act on reasonable adjustments. Instead, it says it will:
Take steps to increase awareness and understanding of existing workplace rights and responsibilities, in particular the duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.
The response notes that some respondents to the consultation were concerned that a broad “right to request” could undermine the legal provisions in the Equality Act and “may legitimise refusing requests for adjustments and detract from the positive duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments”.
122.The consultation paper also suggested that the Government planned to reform Statutory Sick Pay. Employees who are unable to work because of sickness may be able to claim SSP, which is paid by their employer at a rate of £96.35 per week. To be eligible, the employee must earn, on average, at least £120 per week. The consultation paper, from 2019, said that SSP is “inflexible and does not reflect modern working practices, such as flexible working”. It proposed extending support to people who fell below the lower earnings limit, and trailed the idea of imposing fines on employers who fail to pay SSP when it is due. Evidence we heard supported these measures: the Trades Union Congress (TUC) estimated that nearly two million workers are not eligible for SSP because their earnings fall below the threshold; people in precarious forms of work, such as workers in the “gig economy”, may also not qualify. It recommended that the earnings threshold should be removed to allow lower-paid workers to receive SSP, while Citizens Advice said that the Government should do more to ensure that employers comply with the requirement to pay SSP to employees who are eligible. We also heard evidence from Professor Dame Carol Black, who carried out an independent review of sickness absence for the Government in 2011. Dame Carol told us that she hoped the Government’s response to the consultation would include reform of SSP:
I think one of the attractions to do something about the Statutory Sick Pay was because we again highlighted in our  report that many smaller employers who were employing employees on pretty low levels of pay just simply did not pay SSP. They rather enabled the person to slip quite smoothly into the ESA system. I thought it was useful that they were going to have an extra look and consult on SSP.
Research by the Resolution Foundation found that, before the pandemic, the UK was “almost at the bottom of the OECD league table for the generosity Statutory Sick Pay”. Since the pandemic, the UK has slipped further down the table, as other countries have increased their rates of SSP or equivalent payment. Respondents to the Government’s consultation clearly supported reform of SSP. For example:
a)73% of respondents agreed that people below the lower earnings limit should be eligible for SSP, and support was consistent across smaller and larger businesses.
b)72% said that there needed to be better enforcement of SSP where employers refused to pay it. The Department says this will be part of the remit of the Single Enforcement Body, which is being developed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
123.The Government decided not to introduce changes to rates or eligibility during the pandemic. In the response, it says that this is because doing so would have placed “immediate and direct cost on employers at a time where most were struggling and could have put more jobs at risk”. Instead, the Government says it has prioritised “changes which could provide immediate financial support to individuals”, such as the Test and Trace Isolation Payment. The Government says that the questions posed in the consultation and the responses now “require further consideration”. It maintains that “now is not the right time to introduce changes to the sick pay system”.
124.We welcome the publication of the Government’s response to the Health is everyone’s business consultation, which closed in 2019. We look forward to scrutinising the Government’s proposals in greater detail, particularly on improving access to occupational health for people in smaller businesses, which may not have dedicated HR functions. We recommend that the Government set out, in response to this report, more detail about its plans to test and evaluate the impact of a subsidy for SMEs and the self-employed, including its planned timetable.
125.It is disappointing that the Government has decided not to progress with plans for reforming Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). The Government acknowledges that there is clear support for SSP reform. The pandemic has highlighted some of the key weaknesses in the SSP system: notably, SSP is not available to two million of the lowest paid workers, and people in precarious forms of work may be excluded from support. The Government has taken steps to support low paid workers affected by coronavirus—but these payments will be phased out, and they do not negate the need for long-term reform of the SSP system, which the Government clearly recognised at the outset of the consultation in 2019. We recommend that in response to this report the Department set out in greater detail its plans for reforming SSP in future, including expected timescales.
131 Department for Work and Pensions, , last updated 25 March 2020
132 Equality Act 2010,
133 Mind ()
135 Vocational Rehabilitation Association ()
136 CIPD ()
139 Transcript of engagement event, , p.31
142 Department for Work and Pensions, , 20 July 2021
143 RNID ()
147 Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health, , July 2021, p.18
149 Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health, , July 2021, CP 509
150 Department for Work and Pensions, , accessed 30 June 2021
151 UK Statistics Authority, , December 2014, p.4
152 Department for Work and Pensions, , September 2017
153 Department for Work and Pensions, , accessed July 2021
155 BASE ()
156 Sense ()
157 Trades Union Congress ()
158 Citizens Advice, , February 2018
159 Glasgow Disability Alliance ()
160 Mencap ()
161 Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health, , July 2021
163 Jurgen Donaldson ()
166 Versus Arthritis, , pp.12–13
167 Transcript of engagement event, April 2021, p.2
170 BASE ()
171 Work and Pensions Committee, Second Report of Session 2014–15, , HC 481, para.115
172 Ibid., para 116
173 Work and Pensions Committee, Second Special Report of Session 2015–16, , HC 386, p.14
174 Transcript of engagement event, , p.8
176 Department for Work and Pensions, , 20 July 2021, p.24
178 Transcript of engagement event, , p.7–8
179 Department for Work and Pensions, , accessed June 2021
180 Department for Work and Pensions, , accessed June 2021
182 Department for Work and Pensions, , accessed 29 June 2021
183 Department for Work and Pensions, , September 2019, p.8
184 Department for Work and Pensions, , accessed 29 June 2021
185 Department for Work and Pensions, , accessed 29 June 2021
186 Department for Work and Pensions, , accessed 29 June 2021
187 Tom Pollard (
189 British Association for Supported Employment ()
190 Social Justice Research LTD (), RNID (, Sense ( )), Spinal Muscular Atrophy UK (), Employment Lawyers Association ()
191 Glasgow Disability Alliance (), Leeds Autism AIM (), MS Society ()
193 Unity Works (), Scope (], Sense (), MS Society ()
197 from the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, dated 30 June 2021
198 Work and Pensions Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2016–17, , HC 56, para.56
199 Work and Pensions Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2016–17, , HC 652, p.6
201 Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health, , July 2019
202 Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health and Social Care, , July 2021
203 Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health, , July 2019
205 Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health, , July 2021
206 Ibid. p.6
208 Gov.uk, , accessed June 2021
209 Trades Union Congress, , March 2020
210 See Citizens Advice, , October 2019 and Trades Union Congress, , November 2019
212 Resolution Foundation, , December 2020
213 Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health, , July 2021
215 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy,
216 Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health, , July 2021