Debbie Abrahams calling for employers to release disability data Photo: Getty/Christopher Furlong
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MP calls on businesses to disclose number of disabled employees

At present only one in two disabled people work. It is hoped that the Bill put forward today will prompt businesses to change their approach to disabled job applicants. 

For over a decade Warren worked as a military policeman in the armed forces, largely serving in South Africa.  The job, he says, was physically demanding. “I quickly rose to the rank of sergeant so it involved a lot of driving, investigating crimes and organising coordinated operations with the municipal police in South Africa.” But in 2005, after a diagnosis suspecting cancer, Warren had a stomach operation to remove a tumour.  It resulted in him losing eight inches of his bowel.

Now, at 48, Warren has retrained as an accounting technician in Chadderton and is on the verge of achieving his level four diploma. But he has been unable to secure employment. “I couldn’t help becoming disabled. My operation was completely out of the blue but suddenly I wasn’t being viewed as a person with considerable experience and a potential asset to a company but rather as a potential liability.” Warren has applied for hundreds of jobs over the years but when he gets through to the shortlisting and interview stage he always seems to lose out to someone “better qualified”.  “Each rejection feels like a slap in the face,” he says. “I almost feel like a second-class citizen.”

“I’m ex-army, I’m disciplined, driven to work and like millions of other disabled people, I want to use my experience and talents to work my way off social security and contribute to society but feel as though everything is stacked against me.” 

In a move to combat the chronic lack of employment for disabled people, Debbie Abrahams, Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, today said that her Bill - which she submitted to the Commons today - would require businesses, public bodies and voluntary agencies to publish the number and proportion of people with disabilities that they employ on an annual basis.

"Although four million people with disabilities are working already, there are another 1.3 million who are available to and want to work, but are currently unemployed. As 90 per cent of disabled people used to work this is such a waste of their skills, experience and talent.” said Abrahams. 

The Bill - which was supported by Labour MPs and the Green party MP, Caroline Lucas - will receive its second reading on March 27. 

Philip Connolly, policy and development manager at Disability Rights UK added: “At present only one in two disabled people work. Specialist back to work government support is capped at some £360 million per year. That’s about £10 per month for each of the 3.6 million economically inactive disabled people so other measures are needed to dent the unemployment numbers… this Bill would enable businesses to demonstrate they have a good track record and a commitment to employing people from the disabled talent pool.”

In her speech to day after PMQs, Abrahams said:

My Bill is a very modest step to help address this prevailing culture. People with disabilities should be able to access the same opportunities that everyone else can…

“There are implications for the economy and society as a whole. Research from the Social Market Foundation has estimated that halving the disability employment gap and supporting one million more disabled people into work would boost the economy by £13bn a year.

“By requiring employers with over 250 employees to report the number and proportion of people with disabilities that they employ, my Bill is seeking to raise awareness of the disability employment gap in their own organisation, prompting them to consider this information and what they may do about it. As we know, what’s not measures or reported is rarely acted on. This is not about red-tape – it is about the sort of society we want.

“On its own, reporting will do little to address the disability employment gap. In addition to leadership from the government we need leadership from organisations to shift attitudes to disability in the workplace. Training for employers, and more widely, can help develop empathy and change attitudes and behaviours.”

Warren, commenting on Debbie’s Bill, added: “I’m really pleased that Debbie is taking on this issue on behalf of all disabled people who want to work because, unless something changes, companies who won’t take us on will simply carry on wasting the huge pool of talent that is out there.”

Ashley Cowburn writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2014. He tweets @ashcowburn

 

 

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder