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

 

 

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.