Initiatives to support disabled people into work need to be clearer and more person centred, the head of employability for the Scottish Government, Adam Reid, has told a Holyrood conference.
Yesterday’s ‘Tackling the Disability Employment Gap in Scotland’ conference came one year after the Scottish Government published A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People and only a few weeks since the they issued a report on the damaging nature of the changes to Disabled Living Allowance to Personal Independent Payment plans, better known as PIP.
Reid began by demonstrating the employment gap between those employed without a disability (80.2 per cent) and those employed with a disability (42.8 per cent) as he outlined government plans to support 277,000 disabled people to remain in employment, and 121,000 people to find employment.
Members from social services, government, councils, education and the third sector discussed the progress of government strategies to enhance employment for people living with disabilities in Scotland.
However, there was an over-arching tone: “Is this all talk, or can we actually do this?”
Reid’s presentation also revealed further government strategies are expected to be launched by April 2018. These plans included apprenticeships through Fair Start Scotland, where participants will receive up to 18 months of pre-work support, and up to 12 months of in-work support.
He said: “Since the recession in 2008 we have focused on young people, so they wouldn’t be scarred through life without having jobs. We now have the third lowest youth unemployment rate in Europe and it’s time to start focusing on equality in employment.
“In the summer of last year, we published our first labour market strategy. The vision is for a strong labour market to drive inclusive sustainable growth where fair work is central to improving lives. Fair work and inclusive growth is important. We see a more diverse workforce as a large part of that strategy.”
The Scottish Government alongside Inclusion Scotland is managing Work First Scotland, but access remains an issue, and Reid talked about the importance of ensuring disabled people can access the right employability services.
“We want a more straight forward, person centred, system. The research by Naomi Eisenstadt, Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality has raised that the system can be too confusing for the user and there is work to do in that area.”
Alister Kerr, from the Shaw Trust said: “The Scottish Government has always been supportive of businesses that have a tried and tested track record of not only employing disabled people but helping their employees move into mainstream employment.
“The Scottish Government has given businesses the opportunity to develop and grow and create more opportunities for disabled people.
“The Shaw trust has been making sure that Westminster also understands the unique potential of these business and additional funding will be given to these businesses to support disabled employees.”
Bela Gor, Head of Campaigns for the Business Disability Forum, said: “We need to understand the barriers to employment, creating a ‘journey analysis’. Big businesses are complex structures with unique cultures and these cultures need to be analysed. The same applies for company technologies, structural premises, communications, and products and services.”
When regarding the nature of the room she added: “Where are all the big employers now?”
This issue was raised throughout the day, with so many disabled people feeling disassociated with the ‘culture’ of employment. The panel outlined the fact many disabled people are scared to admit having a disability in case they were judged, and similarly some people did not feel they had a recognisable disability, for example those with dyslexia.
In the public-sector bureaucracy goes “hand in hand” with change, Reid added,but the vastness of the paper trail, the difference between the DWP, the NHS and the third sector; the fact that the DWP may then become a referral service if Government plans to launch “modern apprenticeships” next April, makes this journey seem more talk and ambition, rather than results.
“Do we know where the need is or are we making assumptions?” asked a member of the audience, “Five years since Remploy shut its doors, people with ambition don’t have the opportunity to work.”
Kerr said: “What I think is important is we remember what lies beyond the numbers. Statistics and figures equal real individual people.”
The conference concluded with an enthusiastic tone in that the third sector, both Scottish and Westminster governments, councils and businesses back moves to support disabled people entering the work place. But, future plans will still face issues in the future – whether that be budget cuts, austerity, Brexit or bureaucracy.
All photography by Ryan Latto