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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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.