Despite millions of pounds being pumped into programmes aiming to assist disabled people into work the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people in Scotland persists, with disabled people in Scotland being half as likely to be employed as non-disabled people according to a unique report launched today by Inclusion Scotland.
Drawing on the views of disabled people themselves, “Situations Vacant: employerability and disabled people’s right to work”, makes the case for a major re-think of approaches to tackling the employment gap.
In particular the report calls for a shift in the over-riding focus on disabled people’s ‘employability’ – what disabled people need to do, and the support they need, to be more employable – towards ‘employerability’ – the willingness of employers to employ more disabled people and provide inclusive workplaces, and the support they need to do so.
Dr Sally Witcher, CEO of Inclusion Scotland explains “For far too long it has been assumed that what stops disabled people from working and progressing in work is some deficit to do with the disabled person themselves. Work programmes that are based on such assumptions have singularly failed to address the disability employment gap down the years. Yet the reasons disabled people are out of work may have nothing at all to do with lack of skills or education, a lack of ability to (self) manage a health condition, or a lack of confidence or motivation. .”
“As disabled people who fed into this report made abundantly clear this focus on our ‘employability’ fails to address the many avoidable barriers put in our path, such as unnecessarily inflexible work practices, employers failing to make reasonable adjustments to workplaces because of misplaced fear of costs; or lack of awareness, unwittingly discriminatory policies and practices and inaccurate assumptions about what we can or can’t do.”
“The key message is that what we need is a shift in focus towards ‘employerability’ – what employers can do and what support they need to do it. Of course that is not to say that some disabled people won’t need employability support too. But it is to say that if that is all you look at, the critical role of employers in opening up work opportunities is overlooked”
The report, which will be presented to the First Minister at today’s Congress on Disability, Employment and the Workplace in Glasgow, outlines practical steps the Scottish Government and employers can take. The introduction of targets for employing disabled people in the Scottish public sector is seen as vital, particularly if target setting is built into public sector procurement and supply requirements.
Stressing that employers may well need advice and support to improve their employerability the report proposes the foundation of a single point of practical advice and support for employers and disabled employees hosted by a Disabled Person’s Organisation and staffed by disabled people.
Involvement of disabled people and employers is seen as key to addressing the employment gap as Dr Witcher makes clear:
“Disabled people’s lived experience is quite possibly the most under-used asset across this agenda. With a few notable exceptions, employment programs are not developed and delivered by us as disabled employees or potential employees, or indeed by employers. Yet these are; the two groups who are most likely to know what works and what does not. Unless approaches work for both, and both have access to the support they need, attempts to tackle the employment gap will not succeed.
“We believe that, it will be vital for disabled people and employers to work together to develop and implement the actions set out in the report. This is the best – perhaps the only – way to really tackle the employment gap.”