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Adrian Wakeling: Disability and employment: heart v head?

Thursday 09 June 2016

Adrian Wakeling, Senior Policy Analyst at Acas, discusses disability and employment


Adrian Wakeling

Adrian is a Senior Policy Analyst at Acas and is part of a team responsible for informing the future strategic direction of Acas and influencing the wider debate on the value of employment relations.

Adrian Wakeling Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window

Is the growing campaign to get more disabled people into work being driven by our hearts or our heads?

Both perspectives were evident at the launch of the Resolution Foundation's new report, 'Retention deficit: a new approach to boosting employment for people with health problems and disabilities'.

The sentiments expressed by the speakers and delegates went something like this:

  • Heart: 'there is a moral imperative to help more disabled people find work'
  • Head: 'yes, and it might also help boost the UK economy'
  • Heart: 'many employers are keen to support disabled people'
  • Head: 'yes, but perceptions of the potential cost may prevent them from acting'
  • Heart: 'we must overcome the stigma of disability at work and encourage employers to be more "disability confident"'
  • Head: 'agreed, but where is the financial incentive?'

The Government Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, spoke from experience on the issue of recruiting disabled people. As a former SME he admitted that he had only ended up employing his disabled staff "by accident". What was often required to help accommodate people with different needs, he suggested, was not merely 'reasonable adjustments' but creativity and flexibility.

Speaking for Disability Rights UK, Philip Connelly suggested that more weight should be placed on the 'social value' of good recruitment and retention practices for the disabled. Philip also felt that disabled people should be able to commission their own employment support, in the same way they can currently take responsibility for personal care arrangements.

One eye catching idea put forward by the Resolution Foundation is a 'right to return' to a job for up to a year following the start of sickness absence. The carrot to this stick is the recommendation that employers should get a rebate on their Statutory Sick Payments if employees on long-term sickness absence return to work within the year.

As Rachel Pinto said in her recent blog, with 83% of disabilities developing as we age, disability at work is likely to concern us all at some point in our working lives - either directly or through a relative or friend.

If disabled people are to really be at the heart of the 'drive to full employment' then it is  critical that their voices are heard but, as ever, the first obstacle to overcome is the stigma associated with disability.

Acas wants to bust ten 'myths' surrounding disability and employment. One common myth is that hiring a disabled person will cost an employer a lot of money.

The reality is that only 4% of 'reasonable adjustments' cost anything at all (and even then the average for the 4% is just £184 per disabled employee).  

Smash the other nine myths here


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