From education to employment

National Disability Strategy launches to bridge the gaping chasm of education, skills and employment

Prime Minister Boris Johnson Levelling UP Speech

Imagine if there was a vast British city where the 14 million residents were much less likely than those elsewhere to have a job or even any qualifications at all.

Where the children were twice as likely to become victims of crime, far fewer adults owned their own home, and the impact of Coronavirus had been distressingly disproportionate.

If such a place existed, policymakers and politicians would be clamouring to intervene and fix the obvious injustices that bedevilled the population. Think tanks would whirr into action, task forces would be created, no stone would be left unturned.

Yet these statistics relate to the daily reality of life of the UK’s 14.1 million people living with a disability. And, even though it is more than a quarter of century since John Major introduced the ground-breaking Disability Discrimination Act, no UK government has ever drawn up such a comprehensive, concerted, cross-government plan to deal with such problems and make disability policy a truly ecumenical endeavour.

That is, until now.

Because if there is one thing more than any other that drives this government, it’s our determination to level up the country so that whoever and wherever you are, the spark of your talent and potential can be connected with the kindling of opportunity.

Viewed through such a prism the situation facing our disabled people – 1 in 5 of the population – is not only a scandal for those involved but a waste of talent and potential that we can ill-afford. And while progress has been made in some areas, for example with more housing becoming more accessible, we can and must do better. Which is what this strategy is all about.

Formulated with the input of more than 14,000 disabled people in one of the largest-ever exercises of its kind, refined over many months, with help from policy experts, campaign groups, charities and more, it is a truly cross-cutting national strategy. It sees departments and agencies in every corner of Government setting out how they will do their bit to bring about the practical and lasting change that will make a material difference to the lives of disabled people right across our country.

Not just bridging the gaping chasm of education, skills and employment – even in 2021 a disabled person with a degree is no more likely to have a job than a non-disabled person who left school at 16 – but addressing the countless instances of unfairness that plague daily life in everything from grocery shopping to the accessibility of courtrooms.

It is the most far-reaching endeavour in this area for a generation or more, not merely a set of worthy aspirations but a concrete plan for the future. And, ultimately, its name is something of a misnomer. Because this strategy is not about disability at all, but ability.

The enormous ability of disabled people and the potential to see it realised.

And our ability to acknowledge and appreciate the contribution that disabled people make to our national life, and to listen and respond to their needs.

As we emerge from the long shadow of Coronavirus, I want to build back better and fairer, for all our disabled people – and this strategy is the down payment on making that happen.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

New National Disability Strategy launches 

More accessible housing, easier commuting and better job prospects are set to become reality for millions of disabled people in the UK through actions set out in the government’s National Disability Strategy.

  • Disabled people set to benefit from plans to upgrade job support and opportunities, housing and transport as part of a new National Disability Strategy
  • Improving accessibility of homes, £300m investment in support for children with special educational needs and disabilities in schools and an online work passport to help disabled students move seamlessly from education to work
  • Plans to consult on disability workforce reporting for businesses with more than 250 staff

The strategy sets out 100 immediate commitments supported by £1.6bn of funding alongside an ambitious agenda for future reform.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: 

“Just as our talented Paralympians are set to take the stage in Tokyo next month, at home we are harnessing that same ambition and spirit, to build a better and fairer life for all disabled people living in the UK.

“Our new National Disability Strategy is a clear plan – from giving disabled people the best start in school to unlocking equal job opportunities, this strategy sets us on a path to improve their everyday lives.”

Work and Pensions Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey said:

“The result of an unprecedented endeavour across government, this national strategy will help level up opportunity and improve the everyday experience of disabled people, whether that is at home; travelling on public transport; using the local high street or going online; enjoying culture, the arts or the great outdoors; and exercising civic roles like jury service and voting. 

“It sets out the practical actions we will take now, alongside clear accountability for delivering them, as well as renewing our ambition to do even more as we build back fairer.”

The strategy is focused on improving inclusion in the workplace, tackling the disability employment gap – currently at 28.6% – and making sure children with special educational needs and disabilities are at the heart of the strategy, including: 

  • Consulting on introducing workforce reporting for businesses with more than 250 staff on the number of disabled people. A move designed to improve inclusive practice across the UK’s biggest employers and builds on existing gender reporting requirements
  • Increasing the number of disabled people employed by MI5, MI6, GCHQ, the Reservists and the civilian military by 2030. MI6 has set an interim target of 9% by 2025.

  • Launching a new online advice hub available to both disabled people and employers, which provides information and advice on disability discrimination in the workplace, flexible working and rights and obligations around reasonable adjustments. For the first time, the one stop shop will make it easier for disabled people to navigate the workplace.

  • Piloting an Access to Work Adjustments Passport to help smooth the transition into employment and support people changing jobs. Pilots will be taking place this year focussing on young people leaving education and veterans leaving the armed forces. The Adjustments Passport will capture the in-work support needs of the individual and empower them to have confident discussions about adjustments with employers. It will also set an expectation with the employer that specialist aids and appliances move when their employee progresses in work or moves post.
  • Investing £300 million to create places, improve existing provision in schools and make accessibility adaptations for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

To make sure disabled people can live in homes adapted to their needs, we’re taking action to:

  • Raise the accessibility requirements for new homes and adapt existing homes using the £573 million Disabled Facilities Grant to make changes like widening doors, installing ramps, fitting stair lifts or installing a downstairs bathroom.

  • Mandating that 10% of homes built through the £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme 2021-26 will be for supported housing, boosting availability of good homes for those with additional needs. This target is designed to make more homes available to people with additional needs.

The strategy outlines new technology making rail journeys easier and more accessible including:

  • Enabling disabled passengers to contact staff from their seat on the train with the new support in place by end of March 2022, with DfT supporting innovative projects that will improve communication for disabled passengers and others with reduced mobility on rail services. Projects will be supported with between £50k and £400k and will use new technology to make using the railways easier and more accessible.

The Disability Strategy also covers a range of other areas including access to justice, culture and the arts. It marks the first cross-government endeavour to improve disabled people’s everyday lives with legislation, policy and funding from across all corners of government.

Sector Reaction

Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson said:

“For the first time, we have real cross-government focus, with clearly set out priorities and aims.

“We are absolutely committed to putting disabled people at the heart of government policy making and service delivery. Their voices, insights and experiences are central to this strategy and our future approach. By engaging disabled people, their families, carers and organisations, collectively we will deliver real and lasting change.

“That’s empowered us to focus on the things disabled people tell us are most important to them, and crucially they’ll be able to hold us to account as we deliver real and lasting change.”

Findings from the UK Disability Survey which had over 14,000 respondents showed many disabled people feel held back in their everyday lives by the negative attitudes of others, ranging from awkwardness and misguided empathy to outright hostility; by poorly designed homes, transport infrastructure, and public buildings and facilities or by a lack of support at school and at work.

A multi-year data programme to improve the availability, quality and relevance of information which will drive policy making across government. This will include regular disability surveys and public perception surveys due to launch by January 2022.

The strategy builds on the Disability Discrimination Act which enshrined protections for disabled people when it comes to employment, transport, education and provision of goods and services.

All commitments are backed by the personal drive of the UK government department’s Ministerial Disability Champion and progress will be reported on every 12 months.

Liam Butler, Chief Revenue Officer at SumTotal

“Discussions around diversity in the workplace are all too often focused on gender, and rarely on the need to include people with a disability. Little wonder then that a recently published survey has revealed the tough and unwelcoming employment environment that confronts disabled workers in the UK.

With so many disabled workers in the UK saying they’ve had to stop working due to a disability or health condition, employers need to put the spotlight on the retention and progression of disabled staff so that they can identify and remove any barriers faced by disabled people in the workplace.

If employees become disabled or have to live with a long-term health condition, it pays to be flexible and take all reasonable steps so that you can retain their valuable skills. With over 11 million people having a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability in the UK, initiating adjustments to support such employees should be a top priority. These changes may include a special keyboard because of arthritis, a special chair because of back problems, a designated car space, a ramp for wheelchair users, or changing working hours or patterns of work.”

Chief Executive of AoC, David Hughes said:

“We welcome the ambition in this strategy to improve the lives of disabled people along and to close the wide and longstanding disability employment gap. To achieve both of these, there needs to be better joining-up with colleges and their work. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill and Skills for Jobs white paper are introducing new reforms in skills which will be crucial to levelling up and closing the employment gap so it’s surprising there is no mention of it in today’s National Disability Strategy.

The additional funding for SEND provision is helpful, but it is concerning to see the omission of colleges from the commitment to invest in accessibility and capacity in education. When 17% of Education, Health and Care Plans are held by college students, this does not suggest a joined-up commitment to smooth transitions to adulthood.

More support for SEND children and young people without Education, Health and Care Plans is something we have called for specifically from the upcoming SEND review. The crucial point though, is that colleges must have parity of funding with schools for non-High Needs students to provide the support these young people need throughout their educational journey. Currently there is a gap between the rhetoric of levelling up and opportunity for all and the recognition of the importance of colleges in achieving these goals.”

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