Disability employment gap Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1. It is regrettable that the publication of three key documents—the Green Paper, the National Strategy and the Government’s response to the “Health is everyone’s business” consultation—has been delayed significantly over the course of our inquiry. The Government’s approach to the timing of their publication has severely limited Parliament’s opportunities to scrutinise these important policy documents. In finalising this report, we have had only one working day to consider the two papers that have been published, and so we address them only briefly. We have had no sight at all of the National Strategy for Disabled People. We very much hope that the Government will set out in the Strategy a clear plan for reducing the disability employment gap over the next five years. We expect to scrutinise all three documents further in the months to come. (Paragraph 9)

Measuring disability employment

2. There is broad support for the premise that the Government should have a target for improving disabled people’s employment rates. Views about what that target should be, however, differ. Both absolute and relative targets have drawbacks. Although the overall number of disabled people in work has increased since 2013, this is largely because of factors such as overall improvements to the labour market, which have also affected non-disabled people, and an increase in the prevalence of disability. It does not appear to be as a result of substantial progress in addressing the specific barriers that disabled people face to finding and staying in work. A relative measure, on the other hand, provides a clearer picture of disabled people’s experiences of the labour market compared to their non-disabled counterparts, but reducing the gap is not necessarily a sign that more disabled people are in work: it could be that the number of non-disabled people in work has decreased. To be meaningful and effective, the target needs to combine both absolute and relative elements, to benefit from the advantages of both and to mitigate their disadvantages. (Paragraph 22)

3. We recommend that the Government adopt a target with two elements: closing the disability employment gap and increasing the number of disabled people in work. It should re-adopt its previous target of halving the disability employment gap. Alongside this, it should adopt a new, more ambitious absolute target aimed at increasing the number of disabled people in work, as its current target is not sufficiently stretching. At today’s employment levels, halving the disability employment gap would mean that around 1.2 million more disabled people need to be in work (assuming that the number of non-disabled people in work stays roughly the same). The Government should adopt this as its absolute target, which it should aim to achieve by 2027. We were disappointed to find that the Green Paper on health and disability support does not make any reference to a new target. The Government must use its National Strategy for Disabled People to set out its plans to adopt—and achieve—a more ambitious target instead. (Paragraph 23)

4. In isolation, however, even the measures underlying this target do not give a full picture of the Government’s progress on disability employment or disabled people’s experiences of work. Instead of relying on a single measure, the Government should collect data against a set of indicators. It should continue to monitor the absolute number of disabled people who are in employment and the rate at which disabled people leave or remain in work compared to their non-disabled counterparts. In addition, it should measure the difference in average pay between disabled and non-disabled workers and consider adopting further measures of disabled people’s job quality. The Government should also consider adopting the Prevented from Working by Disability measure, which accounts for the prevalence of disability in the population, as an additional indicator against which it can measure progress. (Paragraph 24)

5. We welcome the fact that questions about autism have been added to the ONS Labour Force Survey, which will enable the Government to collect more detailed data about autistic people’s experiences of work. The Government should commit to publishing this data as soon as possible. It should also set out how it will collect more data on other impairment groups. (Paragraph 30)

6. The ONS’ Labour Force Survey (LFS) is currently unable to capture how people affected by the same broad symptom groups, such as energy limitation, are in employment. This is because the questions in the survey focus on medical diagnosis rather than symptoms. We recommend that DWP should work with the ONS to explore how it can use the LFS to collect employment data about people in groups who are affected by similar symptoms, even if they have different underlying diagnoses. This should include, but not be limited to, people affected by symptoms such energy limitation and stamina impairment, which can span a number of different medical conditions. (Paragraph 33)

7. Mandatory reporting, which would require employers to publish data about the number of disabled people they employ, could be a highly effective way of holding employers to account and driving forward progress on closing the disability employment gap. This data will only be accurate if employees feel comfortable disclosing their disability or health condition to their employer. Scrutiny of the published data is likely to act as an incentive to employers to create an environment in which people feel able to make those disclosures. We recommend that the Government should require larger employers (those with 250+ employees) to publish data on the proportion of their employees who are disabled. (Paragraph 38)

8. We are not yet persuaded, however, that requiring employers to report data on the “disability pay gap” is the right way forward. We share the Minister’s concern that this data could risk giving a misleading impression of employers who have made genuine progress in recruiting more disabled people, but where those employees are in more junior positions. The disability pay gap, however, remains stark, and in its forthcoming National Strategy for Disabled People, the Government should set out ambitious and timed targets for how it intends to reduce it. (Paragraph 39)

Employment support

9. There is evidence that localised support, which is often delivered by small, specialist providers, helps disabled people get into and stay in work. All too often, however, disabled people are reliant on large, national programmes, or on discretionary, ad hoc support provided by Jobcentre Plus. Neither is ideal: large programmes have tended to perform badly for disabled people, and access to JCP support (for example, via the Flexible Support Fund) is, by design, not consistent. Current programmes aimed at supporting disabled people into work have not produced the desired improvements in the disability employment gap. It is time for DWP to take a new approach. We welcome the Department’s recognition, in the recently published Green Paper, that local services and providers have an important part to play, and look forward to seeing how it develops its work in this area. (Paragraph 51)

10. DWP should reimagine fundamentally how it provides employment support to disabled people. We recommend that DWP should carry out a significant expansion of the number of Devolved Deal Areas, granting more powers to local authorities to set up their own localised version of the Work and Health Programme. Any devolution should be underpinned by a clear framework including benchmarks and minimum requirements that local authorities must use when commissioning support.(Paragraph 52)

11. The default position should be that groups of local authorities, perhaps based on the recently-defined NHS integrated care system boundaries, where they have the will and capacity to do so, are responsible for delivering employment support for disabled people. DWP should provide funding and support to enable them to do this. This approach will not work for everyone: some local authorities may not have the capacity to commission or deliver employment support services, so there will still be a role for national programmes such as the Work and Health Programme. For some areas, however, such as areas with a Metro Mayor, this approach could work well, as we have already seen with London and Manchester. Where they want to and can, local authorities should have the power to commission their own employment support programmes. They should work closely with the Department for Health and Social Care (or devolved administrations as appropriate), the NHS, the third sector, and education and training providers to achieve this. (Paragraph 53)

12. Locally-commissioned employment support will require close working between local government and a variety of partners, including the NHS. Integrated care systems (ICSs) have an important role to play in strengthening these partnerships. The Government’s ambition is for every area in England to be covered by an ICS. ICSs already bring together providers and commissioners of NHS services with local authorities to plan and deliver health and care services. We recommend that the role of ICSs be expanded to include collaboration with local government on the commissioning and delivery of localised employment support to disabled people, with equivalent work by devolved administrations also being supported. (Paragraph 55)

13. The evidence we heard in favour of Individual Placement and Support (IPS) as a model of employment support is overwhelmingly positive. We welcome the fact that the Department has invested in trials of IPS. We urge the Department to bring forward publication of its analysis of data from these trials and to adopt IPS as a model for its employment support offer. We welcome the work that the joint Work and Health Unit has done so far on expanding the use of IPS, and DWP should continue to work with DHSC and NHS England on this. (Paragraph 61)

14. It is unacceptable that some disabled people still face barriers when trying to access services through Jobcentre Plus. It is particularly shocking that services provided by the Department for Work and Pensions, whose ministerial team includes the Minister for Disabled People and which is responsible for a significant proportion of the Government’s work on disability, remain inaccessible to some disabled people. We welcome the fact that the Department is now consulting on what improvements it can make to its provision of reasonable adjustments and alternative formats, but it should act as a beacon of best practice on accessibility for the rest of government. To achieve this, it must ensure that both its premises and services are wholly accessible to disabled people. The Department should invest in and expand its provision of alternative formats for its communications with disabled people. It should ensure that BSL interpreters are provided at all meetings with Deaf clients who need one and that other accessible formats—such as large print, Braille and Easy Read—are readily available for people that need them. (Paragraph 67)

15. We heard that more needs to be done to improve the way a disabled person’s communication preferences are recorded by Jobcentre Plus. DWP should take inspiration from the Accessible Information Standard model used in the NHS and create an automated process which can record a disabled person’s preferred communication method and provide the correct support accordingly. (Paragraph 68)

16. We welcome the fact that the Department has increased the number of Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) in Jobcentres. DEAs can provide specialist support to disabled people in a way that generalist Work Coaches do not, and the increase in numbers will go some way to addressing the fall in the number of DEAs during the pandemic. It is vital that all Jobcentre Plus staff, however, have a good understanding of disability, including specific conditions, and how best to support disabled people. DWP should keep the number of DEAs under review and commit to recruiting additional DEAs if demand rises. It should also ensure that any training that Jobcentre Plus staff receive on supporting disabled people is not just generic but covers the needs of specific impairment groups, including people with invisible disabilities. (Paragraph 73)

17. We welcome the fact that DWP already encourages providers of some of its disability support schemes to adopt job carving as part of their support to participants. The Department, however, should do more to support and encourage employers to adopt job carving practices when recruiting a person with a disability. As part of its National Strategy for Disabled People, DWP should provide detailed guidance to both providers and employers on how they can job carve roles for disabled people. It should also ensure that Jobcentre Plus engages with local employers to encourage them to carve out roles for disabled people. (Paragraph 78)

In-work support

18. 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.(Paragraph 87)

19. 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. (Paragraph 88)

20. 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. (Paragraph 100)

21. 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. (Paragraph 101)

22. 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. (Paragraph 102)

23. 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. (Paragraph 103)

24. 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. (Paragraph 104)

25. 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. (Paragraph 115)

26. 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. (Paragraph 116)

27. 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. (Paragraph 117)

28. 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. (Paragraph 118)

29. 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. (Paragraph 124)

30. 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. (Paragraph 125)

Impact of the coronavirus pandemic

31. The pandemic has led to a sharp increase in the number of people working remotely. It is clear from the evidence we heard that while remote working has created new access barriers for some disabled people, for many others it has aided their participation in the labour market. The evidence we heard suggests that the majority of disabled people want to continue working remotely after the pandemic. The Government should support their right to do so. The Government should work with employers to ensure that disabled people are supported to work in an environment that suits them best: whether this is from home or at their place of work. To that end, the Government should amend current legislation and give workers the statutory right to request remote or flexible working from of the beginning of their employment. In some industries or some roles it may not currently be feasible for workers to carry out their roles remotely. As with the existing right to request flexible working for employees with at least 26 weeks’ service, employers should follow Acas’ Code of Practice on dealing with flexible working requests in a reasonable manner, which should involve weighing the benefits of any changes against any adverse impact on the business. It should also work with employers to ensure that their places of work are inclusive and accessible for all, so that disabled people who do not want to work from home are well supported. (Paragraph 142)

32. There is no clear evidence which explains why disabled people have a considerably raised risk of death from coronavirus. There is a need for further research to investigate the extent to which disabled people’s experiences in the workplace may play a part in this. We recommend that DWP work with HSE to commission research to better understand whether there is a link between occupational settings and the raised risk of death from coronavirus for disabled people. (Paragraph 146)

33. DWP must ensure that the Kickstart and Restart schemes are accessible to disabled people. Before September 2017, the Work Programme reported quarterly on job outcomes for disabled people: the Department should be able to do as good a job with Restart and Kickstart. Publishing an evaluation of how well the schemes have worked for disabled people only after they have ended is not good enough. In our report on DWP’s preparations for changes in the world of work, we recommended that the Department should immediately improve how it collects data about claimants’ characteristics in the Universal Credit system so that it can monitor, in real-time, how well the Kickstart and Restart schemes are working for particular groups, including disabled people. We reiterate that recommendation now. (Paragraph 154)

34. DWP must demonstrate that lessons have been learnt from previous schemes and ensure that the payment model used in Restart does not disincentivise providers from supporting those who are furthest away from the labour market, including some disabled people. Although Restart will not be a specialist disability programme, some disabled people will undoubtedly seek support from the scheme. An evaluation of Work Choice, carried out on behalf of DWP, highlighted the importance of paying providers service fees for provision aimed at disabled people. The Department should incorporate a service fee element into its payment model for Restart to ensure that providers are incentivised to support disabled people, and other cohorts, that may be furthest away from accessing the labour market. (Paragraph 158)

The disability benefits system

35. The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is not fit for purpose. The fact that a majority of appeals against fit for work decisions are successful is evidence that it is not achieving its aim of supporting disabled people who can and want to work into employment. The assessment process can also create anxiety and distress for claimants, pushing them further away from the labour market in the process. We welcome the Minister’s admission that the system is flawed and needs to change, and we plan to look at this issue in more detail in a separate inquiry. We welcome the fact that the Department has now published its Green Paper on health and disability support. It says that it will consider how to address some of the existing problems with the disability benefits system, including whether it can achieve this within the current structure or whether “wider change” is needed. DWP should use this as a starting point to carry out wholesale reform of the WCA. DWP should use this as a starting point to carry out wholesale reform of the WCA. (Paragraph 168)

36. Sanctions can have a negative impact not only on disabled people’s employment prospects, but on their overall wellbeing. The Minister told us that the conditionality regime forms part of a “menu of support” and that sanctions are only used as a last resort, but even he acknowledged that it is in “no one’s interest” for a sanction to be applied. We welcome the fact that DWP has very recently adopted a new approach to conditionality, with a focus on voluntary engagement, for some disability benefit claimants. But this change is long overdue. In response to this report, DWP should set out the evidence in support of its new approach, what involvement disabled people had in developing it, and what plans it has to evaluate it. It should also provide its most recent evidence on the impact of sanctions on disabled claimants, including on their mortality, as well as any lessons it has learned from the suspension of the conditionality regime during the coronavirus pandemic. It should also set out in response to this report the action it has taken in response to our predecessor Committees’ reports from 2015 and 2018 on benefit sanctions and their impact on disabled people and people with health conditions, including their recommendations that some groups should be exempt from sanctions and that DWP should explore options for non-financial sanctions and that it explore options for a warning to be issued for a first sanctionable failure. In particular, it should explain what it has done to engage claimants in provision and conditionality, as it undertook to do in 2018. It should commit to reducing the number of disability benefit claimants who are subject to conditionality and decrease the value of sanctions. The Department should only impose sanctions when all other avenues have been exhausted. (Paragraph 175)

37. It is encouraging to hear that the Department is beginning to take steps to rebuild its relationship with disabled people. But the Department still has a long way to go. Effective and meaningful engagement with disabled people, when developing policy proposals that will impact them, is one way the Department can rebuild trust with disabled people. We were therefore disappointed to hear that the Department had not accepted the Social Security Advisory Committee’s (SSAC) recommendation that it should introduce a protocol for engaging with disabled people. (Paragraph 180)

38. The evidence we heard suggests that the Department’s engagement with disabled people on developing its National Strategy for Disabled People has been poor. We recommend that the Department immediately accept SSAC’s proposal for a protocol for engaging with disabled people. In response to this report, the Department should set out a timeframe for when it will begin publishing information about its engagement with disabled people. (Paragraph 181)

Published: 30 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement