Almost 20% of working-age adults are disabled, but, according to the 2016 Labour Force Survey, disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people.
This is hugely damaging to the individuals concerned, businesses and the economy. And, of course, it contributes towards our woeful rates of productivity.
Disability charity Scope suggests that a 10% rise in the employment rate among disabled adults would contribute an extra £12bn to the Exchequer by 2030. The 2015 Conservative Party manifesto included a commitment to halve the disability employment gap by transforming “policy, practice and public attitudes, so that hundreds of thousands more disabled people who can and want to be in work find employment”.
The government appears to have had some success, with 3.47 million disabled people in employment in the third quarter of 2016, up by 242,000 on the same period in 2015. And the level of employment among disabled people has been rising more quickly than that for non-disabled people in recent years. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Women and Work recently examined this issue. It highlighted a number of problems that need attention.
These include poor careers advice, a lack of support for disabled apprentices, and shortsighted employers who fail to recognise that improvements for disabled workers often improve the working environment for all. There is also an over-reliance on self-reporting disability to employers, which may mean disability levels are being significantly under-reported. APPG co-chair and Labour MP Jess Phillips neatly sums this up as being largely down to the negative attitudes of employers.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Many employers do recognise the enormous contribution that disabled people can make to their organisations, and are taking steps to do more. The accountancy sector isn’t perfect, but it has made a good start on tackling disability issues. KPMG is a founding partner of the City Mental Health Alliance, whose corporate members also include Deloitte and PwC. The alliance aims to create a culture of good mental health for workers, share best practice and increase understanding about mental health.
Professional bodies have a role to play too. Two percent of AAT employees have declared a disability and we are committed to increasing our diversity over the coming months and years; we would certainly encourage members to do the same. Employers need not be alone in tackling this problem; a range of organisations are willing to help. The Shaw Trust, for instance, works with employers of all sizes to provide them with enthusiastic, committed staff through a no-cost recruitment service. Its disabled candidates are trained, enthusiastic and ready to work.
Phil Hall is AAT's Head of Public Affairs and Public Policy.