20/11/2015 06:47 GMT | Updated 20/11/2016 05:12 GMT

Specialist Employment Support Is Vital to Halving the Disability Employment Gap

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act - a landmark piece of legislation that was the result of a hard-fought campaign by disabled people.

For the first time, the Disability Discrimination Act made it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people as employees and as consumers.

The legislation improved the lives of disabled people in many ways. But 20 years on, there are still critical inequalities to address.

One of the starkest of these is that too many disabled people are still unable to find, stay in and progress in work and are therefore unable to achieve their career goals and aspirations.

For more than a decade, the gap between the employment rate of disabled people and the rest of the population has remained static at around 30% - and this was confirmed again in this week's figures. Yet many disabled people can, and want to, work - nine out of 10 disabled people are in work or have worked in the past.

Too many disabled people face huge barriers to entering, staying in and progressing in work. These include a lack of flexibility in the workplace, poor employer attitudes and a lack of appropriate support to find work.

Halving the disability employment gap

In 2014 Scope called on all political parties to commit to halving the disability employment gap, and we were delighted to see the Government take forward this commitment when they took office.

Disabled people must be at the heart of future plans to develop Britain's workforce and grow our economy.

Employment is an important part of living independently for many disabled people and there is a vital economic case for doing more to support disabled people who can and want to work. Earlier this year, Scope published new research showing that a 10 percentage point increase in the disability employment rate, the equivalent of supporting 1 million more disabled people to work, would increase GDP by £45billion by 2030.

If we are to halve the current employment gap and break down the barriers disabled people face related to work, there needs to be real commitment to improving the back to work support available to disabled people.

Bold and ambitious

Having a personalised, specialist employment support programme for disabled people is crucial. Support needs to be tailored to the needs of the individual, voluntary, joined up with wider public services and fully reflective of the differences in local labour markets.

The Government's current specialist disability employment support programme, Work Choice, has many of these qualities and can be on. However, the scheme is still too small. We need to see it invested in, expanded and made more targeted, to really make a difference for disabled people. The Work and Pensions Select Committee has called for a separate, specialist employment programme for disabled people and Scope strongly supports this.

At Scope we passionately believe that every disabled person must have every opportunity to realise their potential and flourish, in all areas of their life.

The Government has set out a bold and ambitious commitment to level the employment playing field. Now it's time to make it a reality.

Scope is a partner of the Centre for Social Justice and will be showcasing the importance of back to work support for disabled people at the CSJ Awards 24 November.

Find out more about disability charity Scope.