Wide gap between government rhetoric on disability and the reality, says TUC

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date: 15 February 2012

embargo: 00.01hrs Thursday 16 February 2012

There is a huge gap in the rhetoric the government uses on disability and the reality of how its policies impact on opportunities for disabled people, says the TUC today (Thursday).

In its submission to the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) consultation on its three-year strategy on disability, the TUC argues that for disabled people who are able to work, paid, decent, secure and safe employment is the best route out of poverty and is an important step towards social inclusion.

However, while the government says that disabled people need to do more to get into work and off benefits, its current policies are reducing the employment opportunities available to disabled people, says the TUC. The submission points out that ministers are making it even harder for disabled people to find a job - at a time when there are already far too few vacancies to provide the necessary opportunities for everyone looking for work.

Spending cuts are threatening the employment rate for disabled people and as disabled people have disproportionately found jobs in the public sector, the TUC believes the impact of massive job losses there will be felt most keenly by disabled people.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that disabled people are over-represented in the public sector, with 34 per cent of all working disabled people employed there, compared to 29 per cent of people who are not disabled. The statistics show that disabled people are under-represented in many private sector industries including banking, finance and insurance, manufacturing, distribution, hotels and restaurants.

At the same time it is feared that the government may close Remploy factories around the UK, making many severely disabled workers redundant, people who may well never be able to find work again, says the TUC.

The TUC believes that government resources to tackle disabled people's unemployment would be cost-effective, as they would then need less welfare support, would generate greater tax revenue and would become more active citizens.

In its submission, the TUC suggests a five-point plan for getting disabled people into employment:

  • A national government-led campaign directed at employers to challenge prejudices around disability, to highlight legal duties on employers, and to promote a positive message about the benefits of employing disabled people. This campaign should pay particular attention to discrimination against people with mental health issues, including providing funding for employers to cover staff absences.
  • The expansion and promotion of the Access to Work scheme, including a redesign of the scheme to make it easier to use and a broader approach to what it could fund. The revenue generated through employment enabled by Access to Work currently exceeds the actual cost of providing the initial support.
  • The reform of Remploy and the protection of the jobs done by the severely disabled people currently working in Remploy factories who are unlikely to work again if they are made redundant.
  • Improved monitoring of the impact of the removal of specific equality duties from the Public Sector Equality Duty relating to disability, and a strengthening of the duty on all organisations carrying out public functions to promote equality for disabled people through employment and service delivery. This would include a particular emphasis on using public sector procurement to support disabled people's employment.
  • The extension of legal protection against discrimination at work to cover volunteer workers, and amendment of benefit rules to enable disabled people to be taken into work for trial periods without losing benefit entitlements.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Before the recession, some genuine progress was being made in improving the working lives of disabled people, with a growing employment rate for people with a disability.

'However, the downturn and subsequent government spending cuts have threatened the employment rate for disabled people - and with the impact of massive job losses in the public sector, where disabled people have disproportionately found employment, still to come later this year further progress is unlikely for some time.

'We've also seen a significant increase in hostility towards some disabled people generated by the government's language around welfare reform, targeting disabled people as 'scroungers' and 'benefit cheats', which has turned the clock back a generation on disability equality.

'The government must change its strategy and take real action to get disabled people working, or it risks consigning hundreds of thousands of disabled people around the UK to the scrap heap.'

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- The TUC's submission is available at www.tuc.org.uk/equality/tuc-20638-f0.cfm

- DWP figures on employment distribution across industrial sector, 2009-2010

Employment distribution across industrial sector

Disabled (per cent)

Not-disabled (per cent)

Manufacturing

9.9

10.8

Construction

7.5

7.8

Banking, finance and insurance

15.4

17.7

Agriculture and fishing

1.3

1.5

Energy and water

0.8

1.2

Distribution, hotels and restaurants

18.6

19.1

Transport and communication

6.5

6.4

Public administration, education and health

34.0

29.2

Other services

5.9

6.1

- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

Contacts:

Media enquiries:
Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248 M: 07778 158175 E: media@tuc.org.uk
Rob Holdsworth T: 020 7467 1372 M: 07717 531150 E: rholdsworth@tuc.org.uk
Elly Gibson T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07900 910624 E: egibson@tuc.org.uk

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