Reflections on the UK National Disability Strategy

Kate Sang and Jen Remnant  

On the 28th July the UK Government published its National Disability Strategy which covers education, employment, transport, shopping, housing, leisure and access to public services1. The Strategy comes shortly after the release of a new ONS report on a collection of social and economic outcomes for disabled people in the UK2 which showed that only around half of disabled people of working age are in employment, compared with 80% of non-disabled people in the same age group. There is an urgent need for measures to increase disabled people’s access to employment, and initiatives to ensure disabled people can stay in good work. According to the Strategy document nearly 60% of disabled people who are not working would like to be. We also need to remember that disabled people who are in work are more likely to be under-employed than non-disabled people3 , which is when a person is not offered full time work, has a job that does not reflect their training or qualifications or does not meet their financial needs. The new National Disability Strategy aims to make jobs more accessible to disabled people. Proposals include encouraging employers to employ more disabled people and to make adjustments through the Disability Confident Scheme and sharing of best practices. It is perhaps surprising that the section on employers does not suggest how stigma and discrimination by employers will be tackled as DISC research has shown these can be real barriers to accessing good work. Further there are promises to reform Access to Work, making the system digital and we hope the government will consider that many disabled people are living in poverty and may not have access to robust internet and relevant technology to make use of these services.  

The Strategy promises a pilot of an adjustments passport, which will be tested with education leavers, armed forces veterans and interestingly, freelancers. The latter is important given the vast numbers of precariously employed workers who are freelance, employed in the gig economy or self-employed. Our research has shown that disabled people, and those caring for disabled people, are at increased risk of precarious work and in work poverty (particularly women)4. We therefore welcome the recognition of precariously employed disabled people, though moves toward increased job security would be more welcome, as previous research has shown that work such as gig work fails to meet many of the criteria of good work5. Employers will be encouraged to voluntarily report disability employment gaps, although it remains to be seen if employers will do this and what the consequences would be of such information, if shared. We know that the experiences of disabled people reporting disability or ill health can vary greatly and can be influenced by the nature of the impairment or illness being disclosed. Disabled people stand at a very complex intersection of employment, healthcare, state welfare provision and stigma or perceptions of deservingness for access to employment support6, and the report could go further in recognising this and taking steps to challenge stigma.  

The Strategy does promote flexible working as a route to recruiting and retaining disabled workers. However, we believe the strategy could have gone further by recognising the career ambitions of disabled people and the need for good work. The UK Taylor Review7 has established a clear framework for ‘good work’, as has the Scottish Government with its Fair Work Framework8. These frameworks could be incorporated into a disability strategy which recognises that many disabled people want and need to be in good work, have career ambitions beyond just accessing a job and that employers have an essential role in creating accessible workplaces and putting in place adjustments as they are needed. We also encourage employers to think beyond the statutory minimum requirements for supporting disabled people and to move towards best practice for creating workplaces where all workers can thrive.  

  4. Richards, J. and Sang, K., 2019. The intersection of disability and in-work poverty in an advanced industrial nation: The lived experience of multiple disadvantage in a post-financial crisis UK. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 40(3), pp.636-659. 
  5. Myhill, K., Richards, J. and Sang, K., 2020. Job quality, fair work and gig work: the lived experience of gig workers. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, pp.1-26.
  6. Remnant, J., 2019. Getting what you deserve: How notions of deservingness feature in the experiences of employees with cancer. Social Science & Medicine, 237, p.112447. 

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