THE BLOG

Are Disabled Young People Being Set Up To Fail?

02/10/2017 00:39 BST | Updated 02/10/2017 00:39 BST
Rich Legg via Getty Images

The political party conference season is getting in full swing. Housing, the NHS, social care as well as Brexit are among issues prominent on the agendas at these annual political melting pots. But there's another one which deserves a higher level of attention and that impacts on hundreds of thousands of lives every day in the UK.

Despite low unemployment levels overall, disabled people who want to work continue to be left on the side lines. While the organisation I lead welcomed a Government pledge to get one million more disabled people into work, the progress on this has been pitifully slow. We've launched our Untapped Talent campaign to promote more rapid change.

Vital Government schemes that overcome workplace barriers and help disabled people get equipment and support like adapted keyboards or British Sign Language translators are poorly promoted and underfunded. Meanwhile, in some cases it is lack of awareness within workplaces, of how to support and nurture the talent of disabled people, which stands in the way.

What can be done to help disabled young people fulfil their potential, get a foothold on career ladders that match their talents and dreams - when all too often they appear to be missing out on the opportunities that are out there?

From what disabled people say, it looks like they have to contend with negative assumptions from an early age.

This week, we revealed that around half (47%) of young disabled people surveyed felt they were not encouraged to go on to a course or pursue their chosen career. Worrying, but hardly surprising - when more than half of those who took part in our research also said their teachers may have had lower expectations of them because of their disability.

It's a startling fact that at the age of 26, disabled people are nearly four times more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people. Meanwhile the employment gap between disabled people and others of working age currently stands at about 31%.

The reality is that a large proportion of disabled people are not getting potentially life changing work or volunteering opportunities. These improve confidence, skills and are often an important part of a journey to independence.

Young disabled people being failed by schools or colleges is part of a wider picture of lack of support at other critical stages in their lives- when they are looking for work, trying to get on training, or even when they are trying to stay in employment.

The disabled school leavers and graduates I speak to tell me they can face an uphill struggle, barrier after barrier, as they try to get started in their careers.

All disabled people who want to work should have every opportunity to do so rather than being locked out of employment. We run an award-winning programme for disabled graduates that opens up paid internships and placements with some of the UK's best known companies. We also have programmes that improve confidence and workplace skills through volunteering.

But we are just one small part of what is required to solve the disability employment gap. It requires real political leadership and a coherent national strategy that pulls in a range of organisations - both private and public. We need greater availability of support for disabled people whatever their age, and funding for this to be prioritised at both a national and local level.

Part of the solution is challenging a lack of understanding about how disabled employees can be fully supported - when minimal changes are often all that are needed to make workplaces properly inclusive and welcoming. Questioning assumptions which place limits on what young disabled people are capable of has to happen in education and in the workplace.

All of these changes can have a seismic impact on disabled people's lives. Meanwhile, there are great economic wins for everyone by having more disabled people participating in the UK's workforce - bringing their wealth of talent, skills and ambition.