The UK government should “demonstrate leadership” when it comes to trying to close the employment gap between those with disabilities and those without.
Speaking at the Learning and Work Institute’s Employability and Skills Scotland summit in Edinburgh today, Scotland’s business, fair work and skills minister, Jamie Hepburn, said the government had taken action to close the gap, but had to “demonstrate leadership” on getting people with disabilities into work.
He said there were not enough private sector businesses “at the table”, but to encourage more, it was crucial that governments “demonstrate leadership”.
“We can’t ask employers to take steps we ourselves are not willing to take. What can we do to ensure more people are employed?” He said he was not sure if quotas or targets were the right way to succeed in that, but “we are prepared to do something about it and I hope the UK government is prepared to do something, too.”
The Scottish government carried out a consultation on increasing the employment of disabled people in the public sector earlier this year, and it plans to publish an action plan over the coming month.
'Stubborn' gap on disability employment
Mr Hepburn’s comments came after Learning and Work Institute chief executive Stephen Evans told the audience that the disability employment gap had remained “stubborn” in recent years.
He later told Tes that leadership from employers was as important on apprenticeships as it was in the general workforce. Employers and apprenticeship providers, as employers, should look to make sure their workforce represents the population more generally, he said. “It is about showing the way and showing leadership. And it relates to lots of things, not just disability,” said Mr Evans.
At the end of 2015, the employment rate for people with disabilities stood at 46 per cent, compared with 80 per cent for non-disabled people. To try and tackle this, the government launched a Green Paper in 2016, which pledged to halve the gap, which then stood at 32 per cent. A report by the Learning and Work Institute that year showed that fulfilling that goal would take more than 200 years at the current rate of progress.
In 2016, a new task force was created to help more people with learning disabilities gain access to apprenticeships. The proportion of people with disabilities who gain an apprenticeship is also much smaller than among those with no disability.
Following the taskforce’s recommendations, it was announced that the minimum English and maths standards required to complete an apprenticeship would be reduced for people with learning difficulties and disabilities.
Last November, prime minister Theresa May announced her strategy to help get a million more disabled people into work over the next 10 years.