Building a British economy for all
I want to see a Britain where disability is no barrier to self-improvement. A society without limits on opportunity and an economy where each feel valued because all feel valued.
That is why I celebrate the anniversary of Disability Confident, about which I spoke at a workshop held at South Holland District Council last week. This excellent campaign presents an opportunity for us all to show our support for helping disabled people and those with mental health conditions into the workplace.
Disability Confident was founded back in 2013, created to help businesses by assisting them to recruit and retain disabled people and others with health conditions.
It was specially designed to support employers large and small to have the confidence to employ disabled people and to give them the confidence of knowing that they have a fair chance of getting a job, as well as understanding what support is on offer through government schemes like Access to Work.
The name Disability Confident is positive and appealing. It doesn’t matter if businesses are unsure about what to do, as it’s the beginning of a journey to reach out and support people; businesses and disabled people are travelling together, shaping the employment landscape.
Along with other initiatives, this scheme is helping to achieve the government’s commitment of supporting one million more disabled people into work within the next ten years. It focuses on the crucial role employers play in ensuring disabled people are attracted, recruited, retained and supported in their careers. So far, more than 9,000 businesses have signed up to the scheme – ranging from small companies to large businesses.
It’s clear we are seeing positive outcomes. Since 2013, 600,000 more disabled people are in work and over 1 in 5 New Enterprise Allowance business start-ups are from by disabled entrepreneurs. But there is still an employment gap which we need to reduce. One important step on the road is for disabled people to be empowered and feel confident that they can declare and discuss their disability and know they will be supported.
I also believe that more use could be made of apprenticeships programmes to help disabled people into work. Less than one per cent of disabled 16- to 64-year-olds started an apprenticeship in 2015/16, despite this being a great way to development new skills and get crucial on-the-job training for a variety of careers.
And more generally, training and employment rights need to be protected from the challenges presented by what is often referred to as the ‘gig’ economy. A rather frivolous term for a type of employment, which, at its worst, could be no better than that once endured by casual dock workers in the 19th century.
Given that people with esteem nourish a healthy society, the opportunity to better oneself through employment should be open to everyone. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people are better off from being in work, while unemployment is closely linked to poorer physical and mental health.
Employment and training should drive social purpose, explicitly serving the common good. Through the acquisition and deployment of skills in the workplace, individuals can gain a sense of pride in their achievements.
It is vitally important that we protect the rights of disabled workers and ensure that the workplace is fit for all. There are many challenges ahead, but the success of the Disability Confident initiative suggest that with perseverance and will, we can indeed build an economy where everyone feels valued.