In late November the government published its much-anticipated Industrial Strategy white paper. The document, which lays down the government’s long-term strategy to boost Britain’s productivity, earnings and economic performance, makes several notable references to disabled people in the labour market.
It highlights that in mid-2017, just under half of working-age disabled people were in employment, compared with 81 per cent of working-age non-disabled people, and acknowledges that this represents significant untapped potential for employers. It argues that businesses that have diverse, inclusive workplaces and offer flexible working are able to reach a wider talent pool, and that creating a workplace which is truly flexible can improve productivity. Reflecting this, it makes a commitment to realise the potential of disabled people in the labour market by working with business to make flexible working a reality.
Notably, the document also sets a goal of increasing the proportion of apprenticeships started by people with a learning difficulty and/or disability by 20 per cent by 2020.
Along with Philip Connolly at Disability Rights UK, members of Disability@Work held several meetings with the BEIS Industrial Strategy team prior to the publication of the white paper, in which we emphasised the economic benefits of the greater inclusion of disabled people in employment. We emphasised the role of disabled people in plugging anticipated post-Brexit skills gaps given likely changes to the free movement of labour. We also brought to the attention of the BEIS Industrial Strategy team evidence that the proportion of apprenticeships going to disabled people has decreased substantially in the past decade.
Commenting on this, Dr Lisa Cameron MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Disability, stated “Increasing the number of disabled people in employment is not only good for disabled people but will also be crucial in enabling the government to implement its Industrial Strategy. It is testimony to the work of Disability@Work and Disability Rights UK in collaboration with the APPG for Disability that the Industrial Strategy now makes a commitment to increase the proportion of apprenticeships started by disabled people by 20 per cent and acknowledges that the current under-employment of disabled people represents significant untapped economic potential”.
Philip Connolly, policy and development manager at Disability Rights UK, added “The Industrial Strategy green paper made no reference whatsoever to disabled people and did not acknowledge in any way the important contribution disabled people make to the British economy. I doubt very much that the white paper would have included a commitment to increase the proportion of apprenticeships started by disabled people in the absence of our representations to the BEIS Industrial Strategy team, nor would it have acknowledged important role of disabled people in enabling the government to achieve its plans to boost productivity and economic performance”.
Industrial Strategy Green Paper (January 2017)
Industrial Strategy White Paper (December 2017)