Where are all the jobs for the disabled?
11th February 2022 - Here’s one thing I know for a fact. Meaningful work is fundamental to a happy life. Whether you’re 25 or 55, able-bodied, disabled, if you have special needs, or you have an IQ of 135, having a purpose, being productive, having some financial independence, and having structure to your days, all these things help to create balance and joy.
This is why I think it is a terrible and worrying truth that so few opportunities are available to those with disabilities in this country. Just 5.1% of people with a learning disability in England are employed; overall, disabled people have an employment rate that is 28.4 percentage points lower than the able-bodied.
And this isn’t because people with disabilities don’t want to work. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, when asked about the value of work, all 60 participants in its study unanimously agreed that their quality of life would be or had been much better in work than out of work. One participant said: “It gets you out of the house, you aren’t stuck in being miserable, everyone needs to get out, disabled or not, you need to get up in the morning, it’s a purpose, it’s the satisfaction when you do work.”
This won’t come as a surprise to many. Yet even though legislation has required employers to make reasonable adjustments to make work accessible for disabled people since 1996, the pathways into jobs for many with physical or mental impairments just don’t seem to exist. Significant barriers remain, from the job application process to ease of access to prejudice.
This was not always the case. The Remploy scheme was created in 1946 to help provide employment placements for those with disabilities, giving them training, support, and a career path. The original Remploy factories were set up for serviceman and civilians who were injured and disabled during World War Two. These factories stayed open for 70 years, but the government decided to privatise a decade ago and in 2013, all the factories were closed or sold. This was a tremendous loss to the disabled community. Remploy created 100,000 jobs for disabled people between 2009 and 2014 alone.
This is an issue that is close to my heart. I feel strongly that those with disabilities deserve the right to work and should be supported into suitable roles. At BigChange, the company I founded in 2013, we have prioritised inclusivity – it’s one of our core principles. Everyone in the business, from RoadCrew to management, understands the need to support one other and embrace diversity. We do this because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s good for business! World class teams are diverse teams.
With that in mind, I am met with Steve Ingham, CEO of the recruitment giant Page Group, this week, to discuss ways to build a more inclusive society. Steve has long been a champion of disabled workers’ rights – and has often been a lone voice on this topic. He said recently: “It just makes commercial sense. You could have a situation where nothing on your website mentions disability. There’s no mention in social media of anyone that’s disabled working for this company. Someone might be sitting there in a wheelchair and they’re the world’s leading cyber expert. They’re not going to come and join you if there’s little evidence that you’ve ever been an inclusive employer.”
I’m hoping that by being more proactive in talking about these issues, I can do my bit for this fight. We need to do all we can to encourage government, employers and charities to champion disabled people in the workplace. We all have different strengths and abilities in this life and that shouldn’t determine our ability to live a purposeful and happy life.