Since the start of the pandemic, the government has announced a series of funded measures aimed at supporting the long-term unemployed and young people to find work. While these measures offer vital opportunities for many people struggling to access employment and pay during this time of economic uncertainty, disabled jobseekers appear to have been overlooked.
Even before the pandemic, disabled jobseekers were far less likely to be in paid employment than their non-disabled peers. Disabled people have been, and continue to be, disproportionately impacted by Covid-19.
While the new support package is available to disabled jobseekers – those that are in receipt of Universal Credit – it does not address the specific barriers that many disabled people experience when accessing employment. Issues such as inaccessible recruitment processes and a lack of awareness among people managers may lay at the door of employers, but barriers exist much earlier in the jobseeking journey – barriers which prevent potential candidates from even reaching the application stage. We are aware of cases where Job Centre staff simply failed to put forward disabled candidates for roles, wrongly assuming that they would not be considered ‘suitable’ by the employer.
The ‘Plan for Jobs’ package includes funding to increase the capacity of Job Centre Plus. We would argue that this must include increasing the number of staff with experience in supporting disabled people to find employment and up-to-date training on the skills that employers are currently seeking.
The Government must also make better use of existing schemes, such as Access to Work. The scheme can provide vital financial support for disabled people in employment, but this support often comes too late – only once someone has secured a role. Making Access to Work available at and prior to the recruitment stage would provide greater support for disabled candidates and greater certainty for employers. Many employers tell us that they want to use Access to Work but are put off by long waiting times and a lack of flexibility within the scheme.
The intention behind the ‘Plan for Jobs’ scheme is not in question. But the needs of disabled people must be considered in the detail and delivery. Otherwise, there is a risk that the disability employment pay gap will grow.
Diane Lightfoot is chief executive at Business Disability Forum.