Last month, Muscular Dystrophy UK held a roundtable meeting in Parliament on the disability employment gap which brought together the Department of Work and Pensions, employers and young disabled people to share experiences and have a say on the Government’s proposals. (You can read MDUK’s briefing here and to find out more about the Green Paper click here.) When I got the invitation to this I jumped at the opportunity to go and have my say as I have found the disability employment gap all too real.
One of the biggest “invisible barriers” to disabled employment that was discussed was the failings of the Access to Work scheme, which is designed to assist with paying for things like adapted equipment, support workers and transport costs. It isn’t a very widely known scheme and it can only be applied for once you have secured a job. (For more information click here.) Even Baroness Jane Campbell who was in attendance stated she is still having problems accessing it after 30 years.
Another issue mentioned that is included in the Government’s Green Paper proposals was the Employment and Support Allowance, many attendees talked about their difficulties claiming ESA and the lack of understanding of disability related issues by advisors in Job Centres. The overwhelming feeling of the room was summed up best when an attendee said he knew many disabled people and couldn’t think of one who didn’t want to be in work and just wanted to sit at home claiming benefits but this seems to be the public’s misconception. Baroness Campbell asked who in the room was currently in employment, there were about 25-30 people there and only 3 indicated this, with one saying they worked part-time, and when the Baroness asked who was looking for work, many hands flew up.
As a university graduate, I soon learnt that finding a job is as hard as everyone tells you it is and when you get any opportunity, even if it’s for a job you don’t really want but allows you to avoid a gap in your employment history or demonstrates you can actually use Microsoft Word (despite having used it for every essay since you were 12), you apply and you take the job!
When you’re disabled however, it’s not that simple. You must consider a hundred things an non-disabled job hunter doesn’t – is there a way for me to get there?; are their offices accessible?; will I physically be able to do the job?; and the biggest question of them all: when do I tell them I have a disability?
At the meeting, I heard stories from many people with disabilities who at some time or another all had to consider these questions. While it comforted me to know I wasn’t the only person in this situation, it made me incredulous as to why this issue had not been effectively addressed before as the representative from DWP told me the statistics on the employment gap had not changed significantly is the past 10 years. According to the Government Consultation website “the UK employment rate is the highest since records began, but there are fewer than 5 in 10 disabled people in employment, compared with 8 in 10 non-disabled people”.
The consultation on “Work, health and disability: improving lives” closed on the 17th February 2017, and the responses are currently being analysed.
By Emma Vogelmann