The Disability Employment Conundrum

A generation of unease

The quest to find stable and high-quality employment has almost certainly been one of the defining challenges that have set apart young people of my generations in contrast to those previously. Being young and also disabled from this respect therefore comes at a disadvantage it seems, with the employment gap itself identified at 32% for working disabled adults compared to their non-disabled counterpart. At its current rate, the gap itself, combined with lower financial means, young disabled people would stand to continue losing out in a jobs market that is simply not meeting our needs.

As the government aims to halve that employment gap to 16% by 2020, meaning at least over a million more disabled people in work, questions on how this will be realised have started to become clearer as the Department for Work and Pensions, in conjunction with the Department of Health, have launched a new green paper. As it considers revising the workings of out-of-work benefits, namely Employment Support Allowance, and to have trained ‘Work Coaches’ in Job Centres, there are also a few proposals outlined for young people, which include:

  1. A voluntary work experience programme, with support included, for those who are likely to have limited capacity for work.
  2. To draw on the £2.5 billion budget for apprenticeships, as well allowing for more adjustments and changing English and Maths requirements.
  3. Job Centre support in schools to provide Supported Employment staff, business mentors and young disabled people to help inspire students.
  4. Supported internships (unpaid) for six months, while in full-time education and has an Education and Health Care Plan (EHC), offering a job coach and a ‘personalised study programme’.

While there are many encouraging headlines from these proposals, not least widening apprenticeship opportunities to make them more accessible, I am generally cautious when anything that relates to being ‘unpaid’ is included as part of the agenda. With Zero-Hour Contracts and unpaid internships already a known problem for young employees, I find that working unpaid, for a six-month period, is not justifiable and advise the government to support disabled employees that allows them to earn a living as early as possible.

For most people who know YEUK well, careers education has long been a burning issue that is yet to make significant improvements in provision. Alongside the introduction of groups that can directly support disabled students in schools, a better careers advice service would also better inform these students of their rights and existing legislation that grants them access to employment and how to make reasonable adjustments requests in any role. Being inspired is one thing, but the government must also help equip disabled students with the knowledge of navigating the workplace in education.

There currently stands 770,000 disabled children within the UK, with government figures in 2014 pointing to at least 19% of families with a disabled member, are known to be living in poverty. The cycle with current measures in place will not decrease this worrying rate of children who are set to face obstacles across their lives. For those on the autistic spectrum, where only 16% are in full-time employment, it is a national shame that support for some areas is still so poor.

Evidence from a report that recently concluded the presence of ‘institutional disablism’ from some employers, identified by Parliamentarians, only emphasises the urgency to get to the root of the problem and stop with piecemeal solutions, which campaigns like the government’s ‘Disability Confident’ have sadly been so far. The potential is there, but until serious reform is put into action, young disabled people’s futures are being neglected.

Find out how to get involved with the ‘Work, health and disability: improving lives’ consultation here. Submissions are open until 17th February 2017 at 11.45pm.

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