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Government's vision to transform disabled peoples' working lives: will anything change?

On 28 July 2021, the government published a policy paper setting out its national disability strategy. It outlines a number of areas where improvements need to be made to help to transform the everyday lives of people with disabilities. 

In the context of work, it reports that of the seven million working-aged people with a disability, or long-term health condition, only 55% are in work. 

To improve this it plans to:

1. Set out proposals to improve the support available to disabled people to help them to start or remain in work

This will mainly be driven via Job Centres.

2. Encourage employers to recruit, retain and progress their disabled employees

It wants to create inclusive workplaces by reviewing its Disability Confident scheme, promoting the Voluntary Reporting Framework and disseminating best practice guides to employers (which will be aimed at SME's). 

The Disability Confident scheme has been in place for several years. It supports employers to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring by 'providing them with the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to attract, recruit, retain and progress disabled people in the workplace'. It also requires employers to commit to offering to interview disabled people that meet the minimum criteria for the job. The review will consider how well the interview requirement is working in practice and explore further ways of 'encouraging' employers to progress through the scheme effectively.  

Any changes to the scheme will be in place by the end of this year.

The Voluntary Reporting Framework was introduced in 2018. It was designed to help organisations to record and voluntarily report information on disability, mental health and wellbeing in their workplaces and was aimed at employers with at least 250 employees. 

The government is 'considering' making this type of reporting mandatory for large employers and will start a consultation to consider how employers can find out how many people in their organisation are disabled and to consider what information they need to report on to the government and whether that information should be made public. 

3. Strengthen workplace rights

The government also wants to 'encourage' flexible working and 'introduce' carers' leave. These are not new proposals. 

The 2019 Queen's Speech outlined the government's plans to make flexible working the default position unless employers have a 'good reason' not to. In 2019, it launched the Flexible Working Taskforce (a partnership across government departments, business groups, trade unions and charities to encourage employers to consider advertising jobs at all levels and pay grades as flexible). Then, in March this year, Liz Truss called on businesses to 'normalise' flexible working by giving employees the option to work part-time, flexi-time, from home and via job shares. It also published new research that indicated that offering flexible working arrangements increases job applications by 30%.

The government has now said that it will launch a consultation by the end of the year on making flexible working the default position.

The government has previously pledged to introduce one week's unpaid leave for carers to help those people who are informally caring for disabled people to balance this with their work commitments. The policy paper states that the government will set out the steps it intends to take to achieve this by the end of this year.  

4. Transform the Access to Work Scheme

The Access to Work Scheme was designed to support disabled workers remain in work and provides grants to enable disabled people to obtain the equipment they need and, in some cases, to help them get to and from work. 

The commitment is to fully digitalise the service and 'radically improve employers and disabled people’s experience' of using it. 

It will also introduce an 'Access to Work Adjustments Passport' which will provide an 'indicative overview for employers of the possible support available from Access to Work, which will help build employer understanding of disability and adjustments'.  The DWP will pilot the passport this year with a view to rolling it out more widely at a later date.

Will anything change?

Many of these changes could make a real difference to some disabled people. But, the majority are couched as 'proposals', 'considerations' and 'encouragement' and are unlikely to have any major impact unless they are backed up with legal requirements that employers have to follow.

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