Principles or practicalities for disabled jobseekers?
by Claudia Wood
Liz Sayce’s Review of Employment Support for Disabled People is an excellent report – and like all excellent reports, it is firmly based on common sense: disabled people want the same choice of job and chance for a career as everyone else. From apprenticeships to directorships, disabled people should be able to pursue the same positions as non-disabled people. It is stating an obvious point but not one reflected in current disability employment strategy.
So Sayce has recommended an end to segregated employment, where subsidised placements are created for disabled people, and instead, funds should be put into Access to Work to enable disabled people to access a greater range of mainstream jobs through adaptations and equipment.
Now, this is a positive move for a number of reasons. Subsidised and segregated jobs are expensive, and they don’t offer the choice of careers and progression routes you can get in the mainstream job market. On the other hand Access to Work has been a phenomenally successful scheme, improving disabled people’s job prospects so that £1 spent on Access to Work saved £1.48 in welfare support.
Last year, Demos recommended in Destination Unknown that enrolment in the Access to Work scheme should be an automatic element of back to work support for disabled people, integrated into the Work Programme. So Sayce’s review really is a positive step in the right direction.
My only concern is that the labour market is not what it was a few years ago. 2.46 million people are currently looking for a job, and disabled people are often at the back of the queue. Work Programme providers – those companies charged by government to deliver welfare to work schemes – are all talking about job creation as they realise there just aren’t the jobs available to get all of their clients into work. Many are using their business contacts to create jobs for some of the trickiest to place clients on their books – including disabled people.
Whilst this isn’t quite the same thing as segregated employment, we shouldn’t take Liz Sayce’s principle too far and rule out the possibility of job creation for disabled people in mainstream industries. Yes disabled people’s options shouldn’t be limited by what can be offered by sheltered employment providers. But at the same time, with the job market as it is, we can’t expect disabled people to be competing on a level playing field with other job seekers – even with Access to Work. It may be a great scheme, but as far as I know it can’t fix employer prejudice.