Workers with disabilities face 'tough and unwelcoming employment landscape', new research finds

Disability charity Leonard Cheshire has found that 71 per cent of workers with disabilities in Scotland say they have left a job due to a disability or health condition

  • Research also reveals a majority of employers believe the cost of workplace adjustments are a barrier to employing those with disabilities
  • Leonard Chesire has called on the UK Government to strengthen the Access to Work scheme
  • The Scottish Government has committed to the creation of bespoke Scottish employability support, to be in place from January 2020

NEW RESEARCH has revealed that workers with disabilities in Scotland face a “tough and unwelcoming employment landscape”, with 71 per cent saying that they have left employment due to their disability or health condition.

The new findings revealed by disability charity Leonard Cheshire today also showed that 66 per cent of managers argue the cost of workplace adjustments are a barrier to employing people with disabilities, 24 percent of UK employers admit they would be less likely to hire people with disabilities, and 17 percent of people who applied for a job in the past five years say the employer withdrew the job offer as a result of their disability.

The research also showed evidence of continuing attitudinal barriers to finding employment for workers with disabilities: 30 percent of people with disabilities who have applied for a job in the last five years felt the employer had not taken them seriously as a candidate. Furthermore, only 20 per cent of these applicants were informed of workplace adjustments that could support their disability, such as assistive technology or flexible working.

However, the findings also revealed that a fifth of employers claim they are more likely to employ someone with a disability. The research also shows an increased awareness amongst employers of the UK Government’s Access to Work scheme - up to 59 percent from 41 percent.

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Despite this, only 14 percent of people with disabilities in Scotland currently receive or have previously received Access to Work support, with 69 percent of recipients waiting more than three months for their application to be approved. Leonard Cheshire is now calling on the UK Government to strengthen and promote the Access to Work scheme.

Stuart Robertson, director at Leonard Cheshire in Scotland, commented: “Our research reveals a tough and unwelcoming employment landscape – with over seven in ten people with disabilities leaving employment due to their disability or health condition.

“Most people with disabilities in 2019 remain frozen out of the world of work. Employers need to seize the opportunity of the untapped talent of people with disabilities.  

“All of us must redouble our efforts to challenge outdated attitudes to disability and accelerate the positive change that enables everyone to thrive in the world of work.”

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, added: “Even the smallest of changes can make a dramatic difference in helping people with disabilities achieve their full potential at work.

“Reasonable adjustments in the workplace are not just the right thing to do, they are a legal requirement.” Equality and Human Rights Commission chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath

“Reasonable adjustments in the workplace are not just the right thing to do, they are a legal requirement – and it is shocking that so many employers are overlooking the positive contribution people with disabilities can make to their organisation.”

Reacting to Leonard Cheshire’s findings, Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills Jamie Hepburn told CommonSpace: “We are committed to supporting those disabled people who can and want to work into sustainable, fair work suitable to their skills and needs.

“Recent statistics from our employability programme, Fair Start Scotland, show that 58 per cent, or 2887 people, of participants are disabled, reflecting a strong desire amongst disabled people to gain employment .

 “Ministers are very clear that our ambition to reduce the disability employment gap is both a moral and economic necessity. 

“Economic growth is critical to our vision for a Scotland where everyone can flourish, but this must be underpinned by inclusive growth where inequality – such as that experienced daily by many thousands of disabled people in Scotland’s labour market – is successfully tackled and we outlined a range of actions in our Employment Action Plan to do so.

 “Ministers are very clear that our ambition to reduce the disability employment gap is both a moral and economic necessity.” Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills Jamie Hepburn

“We promote Access to Work funding across Scotland and we continue to call for devolution of Access to Work to enable the creation of a more accessible, comprehensive and distinctly Scottish service.”

On 11 December 2018, the Scottish Government published A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: Employment Action Plan, setting out the action Scottish Government and its agencies will take in order to achieve our ambition to at least halve the disability employment gap by 2038. The plan outlines actions that reach across Government policy, including Health, Transport, Education, Social Justice and Procurement. 

These actions include up to £6m in funding to tackle child poverty by supporting more disabled parents towards and into work, and investment of up to £1 million to establish a Public Social Partnership, involving government, disabled people’s organisations and employers to develop, test, and implement solutions to the barriers that employers face in hiring and retaining disabled people.

The Scottish Government has also committed to the creation of bespoke Scottish employability support, to be in place from January 2020, to meet the needs of disabled people for whom more mainstream employment support is not suitable.  This follows the end of UK Government Specialist Employability Support contracts in December 2019, and the subsequent devolution of funding to Scotland.

Picture courtesy of Mike Gifford

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