SPAEN publishes “Opening the Glass Door” Report

In a report published today, SPAEN calls for Scotland to use new powers to help support the independent living movement; unlocking the latent talent amongst those with disabilities who can and want to work.

With the consultation on new welfare powers due to end on October 28, SPAEN hopes that the opportunity is taken to radically overhaul the existing benefit scheme and re-think what a ‘positive destination’ is for a person with a disability, multiple disabilities or those with fluctuating conditions, in the workplace.

By tackling the disability employment gap – that has remained at 30% across the UK since 1998 – SPAEN’s ‘Opening the Glass Door’ report cites increased productivity, staff retention and customer satisfaction amongst those that do embrace a diverse workforce; the benefits that greater social inclusion could bring to the disabled individual and the potential reduction in Scotland’s benefits bill.

Colin Millar, Chief Executive Officer at SPAEN and author of the report, explains:

“Working and volunteering make a huge contribution to social inclusion, parity of esteem and purpose for those with disabilities. While little or no progress has been made in the last 10 years in closing the employment gap of those with disabilities; with the transfer of new welfare powers now is the time for Scotland to step up to the plate. Hopefully we can create the right environment for the economic, social and cultural change that is needed across government, the employer community and society to make it a reality.”

At present a ‘positive destination’, for which JobCentre Plus is remunerated, is defined as achieving 16 hours paid employment a week (or a £115.50 a week threshold which is 14 hours based on the Scottish Living Wage). SPAEN suggests that this needs a re-think.

“This system drives the wrong behaviours and the idea of a ‘positive destination’ should be re-thought. Some disabled people are working to capacity at 16 hours, for others the journey to full employment is not an overnight one. The feeling of self-worth and inclusion employment can give a disabled person should not be underestimated.

“For those achieving over this threshold, there should be a scaled reduction, not overnight loss, in Employment and Support Allowance to encourage and support the move to full employment, where this may be a possibility.

“Reform should consider the social model of disability i.e. what a person can do rather than focusing on what they cannot and then make suitable and adequate provisions and support to allow them to achieve their full potential within society. It’s a model that’s successfully subscribed to in Denmark, where the focus is on a person’s ‘working ability’ rather than based on any medical prognosis.”

Andy Higgins, who serves on the Board of SPAEN, is an example of someone who wants to, but is not encouraged to work. Formerly a national engineering manager with a large property management company, a brain stem stroke in 2003 left Andy with ‘locked in’ syndrome.

Despite being nearly totally paralysed and unable to speak, through assisted technologies he is a highly articulate individual. The computer skills he used widely in his job prior to his stroke are unhindered by his disabilities and have been enhanced through distance learning courses.

Andy comments:

“After many emails, it was made clear to me that achieving employment wasn’t going to be a forthcoming option via the Jobcentre. It was a very deflating experience.

“I realise that for some people, my disabilities may appear to be overwhelming. Yet I live independently, manage my own care provision, serve on the Board of SPAEN and currently work one day per week as the Project Manager of a group of senior managers from the independent living fund, local authorities and independent living support organisations. I want to contribute to society and gain a job that reflects my skill set.”

Colin Millar argues that it’s not just policy reform that’s needed but an open-minded employer community to embrace those with disabilities into the workplace, ensuring parity of pay and unleashing the economic benefits that having more people in employment in Scotland would bring to the country.

He concludes:

“This is an opportune time to revamp and re-design welfare, benefits and job programmes, developing something uniquely Scottish, whilst borrowing what works from our European and international neighbours.”

The reports key findings include:

  • There are currently over 11 million people with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability living in the UK. 16% of working age adults are ‘disabled’ (Source: Department of Work & Pensions)
  • The number of disabled persons who were in employment in 2012 was 46.3% as compared to an employment rate of 76.4% of non-disabled working age persons, giving an employment gap of 30.1% or some 2,000,000 plus disabled people who could work but are currently unemployed (source: DWP). Sweden’s unemployment gap is 9.5%
  • A Scottish Executive Action Plan (2005) has made little or no progress in closing the employment gap in the past decade
  • Based on the NRS Scotland’s mid-year population survey, Scotland has around 3.4m adults of working age (16-34 years). As an estimate with 558,000 of these persons being disabled persons earning average wages, the inequality gap in earnings would be £1.34bn per annum with estimated tax receipt losses of around £185m per annum for the Treasury
  • A survey by the DWP in 2005 found the top three benefits reported by employers who embraced inclusive recruitment and retention of disabled people was: increased retention; image of the organisation; staff relations and morale. Other benefits and attributes included disabled employees being highly committed and motivated, punctual and exhibiting lower rates of absenteeism.
  • In Scotland, the Scottish Human Rights Commission found the pay gap to be £1.20 per hour or 11% between disabled and non-disabled peers, equating to a loss of £2,300 per annum based on a full-time post. The Commission also reported that people in families with a disabled adult are twice as likely to be in poverty than others
  • When surveyed at the age of 16, disabled and non-disabled peers reported similar aspirations in relation to future career roles and earnings. By the age of 26, disabled people are four times more likely to be unemployed. SPAEN believes that it makes sense to bring the educational and employment sectors together to co-design and co-deliver training and education programmes for disabled people, as with the wider educational curricula, with a clear path from education to practical application of learned skills in the workplace
  • While SPAEN recognises the role that peer support schemes (where the majority if not all employees are disabled) play as a useful and valuable enabler for disabled people to enter the workforce; disabled people should be integrated into mainstream employment and these schemes should not be a final destination