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Posted on:
20th November, 2017

Tackling the disability employment gap

Tackling the disability employment gap

In our LEP area there are almost 50,000 working age people whose day-to-day activities are limited by a long term illness or disability. That’s over 15% of the working age population, and well above the national average.

And we know that people with a disability are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people.

That’s a massive gap and one the Government announced it was determined to close when it published its Work, Health and Disability Green Paper a year ago.

Given the high proportion of economically inactive people in our LEP area, we have been working with the Government’s Strategic Work and Health Joint Unit (WHU) to pilot a programme of work with small and medium-sized business owners examining the challenges and opportunities in relation to work and health.

What that uncovered was a general fear of the unknown in employing someone with a disability or long term condition. No business that we spoke to felt that they would ever discriminate deliberately, but many business owners perceived a greater risk, both of increased absence, and feared saying or doing the wrong thing.

There was also a distinct lack of awareness from businesses about the support currently available to them, and comments that the services which are available could be better co-ordinated.

A recurring theme was the potential for better matching the skills of individuals to the opportunities in the workplace.

We followed up that work with a business-focused conference which included employers, local agencies, the voluntary sector, NHS, JobCentre Plus and a team from the WHU to further explore the issues. You can see a short video from the conference here.

The outcome of that event is that we have been chosen by Government as a ‘Beacon’ area to lead on a project to engage and support local employers by bringing together key partners and championing action.

As well as overcoming barriers to work, we will also examine workplace health and how people can be supported to remain in work. The benefits of retaining an experienced, skilled employee who has acquired an impairment are usually greater than recruiting and training new staff.

The WHU and Government have pledged to work closely with us to share our findings with other LEPs and encourage them to take on a similar local leadership role.

We have found that many of our local employers recognise the benefits of a diverse workforce that better reflects their range of customers and want to engage, but are unsure how to do so.

One of our first steps is to work with business organisations, chambers of commerce and local agencies to map and then clearly articulate the help that is available to business to employ and retain disabled people, such as the Disability Confident scheme.

It is early days but in the coming months we hope to share more of our experiences in tackling this important agenda. If you wish to know more about our work in the meantime then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Mark Duddridge is chair of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly LEP.

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