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25 February 2015

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. 

By Ashley Cowburn

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. 

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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.”

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