Behind the promotional gloss of the Department for Work and Pensions’celebrity-backed ‘Disability Confident’ roadshow lies the reality of how current government policy is actively undermining employment opportunities for Deaf and disabled people. Deaf and disabled people will gather outside the conference at London Hilton Canary Wharf from 9am on Tuesday 25th March to protest against the most urgent threats to employment we are facing. For those unable to attend the protest in person there will be a twitter storm.
On Tuesday 25th March an event will be held in Canary Wharf which the DWP is describing as “the first ever conference of its kind to showcase the talents of disabled people” and which aims to dispel the myths of the complexities of employing disabled people. The event is being marketed as a chance to boost employment rates for 350,000 disabled people in London without a job.
Deaf and disabled campaigners are concerned that the Disability Confident programme is a cynical attempt by government to deflect from the fact that its own policies are undermining the ability of Deaf and disabled people to find and retain employment at a time when benefits and are being cut and life out of employment being made unbearable.
The closure of the Remploy factories in 2012 and 2013, pushing 1,800 Deaf and disabled people into unemployment, was justified on the grounds that money saved would be invested in the Access to Work scheme which provides financial help towards the extra costs of employing Deaf and disabled people and which will be promoted through tomorrow’s roadshow. Despite the fact that the scheme has been shown to make a profit of £1.48 for the state from every £1 invested in it, increasing caps and restrictions on what the scheme can be used for are severely limiting its usefulness and numbers accessing the scheme have dropped since 2009-2010.
Changes to Access to Work are having such a detrimental impact on the employment of Deaf BSL users that a campaign has been started fronted by Jenny Sealey, artistic director of the Paralympic Games opening ceremony whose ability to continue her acclaimed work is directly affected. Jenny says, “Without that provision I couldn’t do my job. It’s fundamental to me being Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre Company.” Many Deaf people are now finding their employment futures uncertain as the result of changes to the scheme are introducing an expectation on employers to make up the difference between the cost of suitably qualified interpreters and the caps being introduced on what Access to Work will now pay.
Meanwhile the closure of the Independent Living Fund, which provides support to disabled people with the highest levels of support to live in the community, is also limiting opportunities for disabled people to participate in employment. Whereas Access to Work will only cover support directly associated with an individual’s job tasks, the ILF currently supports disabled people with areas of personal support essential for being able to work, for example maintaining personal hygiene, using the toilet, getting ready for work. Social care support provided by local authorities is not able to meet the same outcomes and disabled people face futures where they can no longer retain their employment once the ILF transfers to local authorities in 2015.
The employability of disabled people is also being undermined by attacks on disabled people’s access to education. The ILF provides essential support enabling disabled people to participate in further and higher education that is not available through for example the Disability Support Allowance. The growth of free schools and academies alongside the government’s failure to protest a presumption for mainstream education in the newly passed Children and Families Act are restricting disabled pupils’ educational opportunities. When the government shut the Remploy factories they said there was no place for segregation in modern society. If they were really interested in building inclusive workplaces the place to start would be with inclusive education.
According to the DWP press release the majority of employers attending the event other than Southwark Council seem to be in the private sector. With the Access to Work scheme being adapted to increase the level of contribution expected of employers, employers will literally be paying to employ disabled people. The press release makes the argument that investing in disabled employees pays off because we stay in the same job for longer and have lower rates of absenteeism. Many disabled workers do over compensate and have fewer chances of job progression but these are not things to be celebrated or promoted and fall outside any true disability equality agenda. The reality of employing disabled people requires a level of flexibility and added expense that are simply not compatible with a competitive workplace. That’s not because of any inadequacies on our part, and certainly not because, as this rhetoric of overcoming personal challenges in order to be ‘successful’ suggests, because we don’t try hard enough. It’s the faults in the construction of a profit-focused workplace.
Ellen Clifford from Disabled People Against Cuts said, “Deaf and disabled people continue to face attitudinal barriers and discrimination which exclude them from the workplace and all attempts to remove stigma and dispel myths are welcome. However a far more urgent threat is currently being posed by the government’s own policies which are undermining the ability of those Deaf and disabled people who are in work to stay in work and which is limiting opportunities to employment more savagely than any initiative like Disability Confident can possibly make up for.”
For more information or case studies of Deaf and disabled people affected by either the changes to Access to Work, the closure of the Remploy factories or the closure of the Independent Living Fund contact Ellen: 07505144371.
Information about the Stop Changes to Acess to Work campaign and for an interview with Jenny Sealey:
NOTES TO EDITORS:
1) The Work Programme is projected to cost £3-5bn over five years, yet is not working for a core group: people living with disability or long-term health conditions. According to data released at the end of last year, more than 93% of disabled people on the Work Programme are failing to find long-term work. Just 6.8% of those referred to the programme in the latest three months have found long-term work.
2) 1,800 disabled workers at the Remploy factories have been laid off over the last couple of years with the promise that the Access To Work scheme would help them all back into the workplace. According to The Mirror in October 2013 just 535 of them have found jobs.
3) Around 18,600 disabled people with the highest level of support needs are currently supported through the Independent Living Fund. In November 2013 a Court of Appeal judgment pointed to the potentially very grave impact of closing the Fund and quashed the government’s decision to do that. In February 2014 Mike Penning, Minister for Disabled People announced that the government had retaken the decision and that the Fund will now close in June 2015.