Thu 29 Jul 2021
The UK has released a long-awaited disability strategy. The plan, comprising 100 commitments, seeks to improve accessible housing, commuting and better job prospects for millions of disabled people in the country. The UK government’s National Disability Strategy is supported by £1.6bn of funding alongside an ambitious agenda for future reform.
Feedback so far from the disability and inclusion community, experts, consultants, charities, and NGOs is bittersweet. Everyone agrees the document sets out a roadmap to disability equity, but critics argue the plan lacks actionable measures and it does not meet its goal to improve disabled people’s lives.
“Disabled people have been waiting a long time for a strategy that has meat on its bones,” said Disability Rights UK CEO Kamran Mallick (pictured below). “Despite being 120 pages long, the Strategy is disappointingly thin on immediate actions, medium-term plans and the details of longer-term investment,” he added.
Mallick will be speaking at our conference Managing Disability at Work on 24 August to shine a light on understanding disability at work using the Equality Act and the Social Model. He will also share his thoughts on the strategy.
What’s in the National Disability Strategy?
The strategy considers a public awareness campaign design to remove stereotypes and seeks to create a task force dedicated to examining the increased costs disabled people face.
Disability at work is at the heart of the strategy, with plans to establish a consultation on whether large employers should report on disability in their workforce. The UK government also seeks to implement initiatives for improving workplace inclusion and narrowing the disability employment gap.
Online access to work adjustment passports has also been announced, and a move to increasing the number of accessible homes. The full document of the new strategy is available online.
Disability at work
The UK's new disability policy is focused on improving inclusion in the workplace, tackling the disability employment gap, which is currently at 28.6%. A consultation will explore the introduction of workforce reporting for businesses with more than 250 staff on the number of disabled people. The government argues that this initiative seeks to improve inclusive practice across the UK’s biggest employers and builds on existing gender reporting requirements.
Kate Dean, Director of Enable Disability & Inclusion Consultants, reflected on the challenges disability reporting could bring to organisations, as it is reliant on employees sharing this information. “If this were to be introduced, many organisations’ data would currently be much lower than the national average of 19% of the working-age population in the UK who have a disability or long-term condition (albeit not all these people are in employment). Not to mention those 83% of people who acquire a disability throughout their working lives,” she said.
Before setting up Enable Disability & Inclusion Consultants, Dean worked for 14 years managing student-facing disability support teams and was Head of Disability at one of the largest universities in the UK. She knows a thing or two about the hurdles that disabled people encounter on their journey to secure and progress at work.
“From my experience, I know that the 17% of the disabled student population will share their disability or long-term condition in education in order to access adjustments and support. But when it comes to sharing this with employers, there is a fear of stigma and judgement, and many graduates will not share this information," said Dean.
“Steps to meaningful change are closer than we realise if we create a space for people to thrive.” Kate Dean, Director Enable Disability & Inclusion Consultants
For the D&I consultant, disability passport schemes are a start, but they require an individual to navigate power dynamics or hierarchies within organisations and self-advocate, or to know exactly what they require or what support is available – and this knowledge is not always present. “Many disabled people know exactly what they require, but others may only be getting to understand their disability or long-term condition,” she explained.
HR and line managers to the front
Fostering a diverse workplace requires a fundamental shift to celebrate difference and focus on strengths. Dean explained: "Disability does not mean ‘not abled’. I work to the social model of disability which recognises that it is the barriers in society that disable a person."
Attitudinal barriers appear in organisations policies and procedures – recruitment, performance management and absence. However, Dean noted that it is important that we don’t beat organisations with a stick but work collaboratively to challenge misconceptions and offer support to drive meaningful change. "Viewing inclusion in this way, rather than as a tick box exercise is a crucial part of employee engagement, from which everyone benefits," she said.
Dean argues that the introduction of work adjustment passports will also require line managers to be educated and appropriately skilled to have these conversations. “While many HR and Occupational Health professionals can offer support to line managers, there is often a lack of specialist knowledge, particularly about neurodiversity and many of the unseen disabilities,” she noted.
Managing disability at work
While the new UK’s Disability Strategy continues to be scrutinised, one thing is for sure – the time has come to take actionable measures to bring change and foster disability equity and inclusion. Join our CPD-certified conference Managing Disability at Work to learn about the new policy and what it means to your organisation.
Held online on 24 August, the agenda has been designed to give you the tools to foster a better understanding of disability and the steps needed to become a disability-confident employer.
Click here to view the agenda
You will also come away with a crucial understanding of employer responsibilities as staff work remotely.
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