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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Wrists, knees, terrible rages – I felt overwhelmed when Barry came to see me

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state.

To begin with, it seemed that Barry’s wrists were the problem. He told me about the pain he was experiencing, the pins and needles that came and went in his hands. I started to examine him. His palms were calloused, his fingers thick and stubby, veterans of the heavy work he’d undertaken throughout his 57 years. Even as I assessed this first problem, he mentioned his knees. I moved on to look at those. Then it was his back. I couldn’t get to grips with one thing before he veered to the next.

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state. Barry was making me feel overwhelmed, the more so as I learned that he’d been experiencing all these problems for years.

“Why are you coming to see me about them now,” I asked, “rather than six months ago – or in six months’ time?”

“I need some time off, doc.”

There was something about the way he wouldn’t meet my gaze. And again, that feeling of being overwhelmed.

“What’s going on at work?” I asked him.

His tone hardened as he told me how he’d lost his temper a couple of days earlier. How one of the others had been winding him up, and something inside him had snapped, and he’d taken a swing at his workmate and landed a punch.

Barry had walked out and hadn’t been back. I tried to find out if he’d heard from his boss about the incident, if he knew what was likely to happen next.

He told me he didn’t care.

We talked some more. I learned that he’d been uncharacteristically short-tempered for months; his partner was fed up with being shouted at. Sleep had gone to pot, and Barry had taken to drinking heavily to knock himself out at night. He was smoking twice his usual amount. Men like Barry often don’t experience depression as classic low mood and tearfulness; they become filled with rage and turn in on themselves, repelling those closest to them in the process.

Depression is a complex condition, with roots that can frequently be traced right back to childhood experiences, but bouts are often precipitated by problems with relationships, work, money, or health. In Barry’s case, the main factor turned out to be his job. He’d been an HGV driver but at the start of the year his company had lost its operator’s licence. To keep the business afloat, his boss had diversified. Barry hated what he now had to do. He was now a “catcher”.

I didn’t know what that meant. Getting up at the crack of dawn, he told me, driving to some factory farm somewhere, entering huge sheds and spending hours catching chickens, thousands upon thousands of them, shoving them into crates, stashing the crates on a lorry, working under relentless pressure to get the sheds cleared and the birds off to the next stage of the food production chain.

“It’s a young man’s game,” he told me. “It’s crippling me, all that bending and catching.”

It wasn’t really his joints, though. Men like Barry can find it hard to talk about difficult emotion, but it was there in his eyes. I had a sudden understanding: Barry, capturing bird after panicking bird, stuffing them into the transport containers, the air full of alarmed clucking and dislodged feathers. Hour after hour of it. It was traumatising him, but he couldn’t admit anything so poncey.

“I just want to get back to driving.”

That would mean landing a new job, and he doubted he would be able to do so, not at his age. He couldn’t take just any old work, either: he had to earn a decent wage to keep up with a still sizeable mortgage.

We talked about how antidepressants might improve his symptoms, and made a plan to tackle the alcohol. I signed him off to give him some respite and a chance to look for new work – the one thing that was going to resolve his depression. But in the meantime, he felt as trapped as the chickens that he cornered, day after soul-destroying day.

Phil Whitaker’s novel “Sister Sebastian’s Library” will be published by Salt in September

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt