Consider this. A customer base of over 12million people. People who also constitute a massive pool of untapped talent. A group that is one of the most entrepreneurial groups in society and has the recalculated spending power of a staggering £249billion.
That's more than the entire UK spend in the retail industry from April to October this year.
This is a group that you'd expect businesses, employers, retail and other services to be fully tapped into. But it isn't. I'm talking about disabled people.
Let me give you three facts. Today only seven Premier League clubs have a Changing Places accessible toilet that can be used by disabled adults and grown children. At least half a million disabled people say they have been turned down for insurance due to their disability. The disability employment gap currently lags a massive 32% behind the rest of the population. Such discrimination; lack of access, services, products and employment opportunities for disabled people jars with the day and age, and with common sense. Business is starting to wake up to the possibilities of making its wares and the job market accessible to the disabled population: greater growth and a larger customer base, and talent, insight and vision in its workforce.
Smart businesses are already making changes, including M&S in producing specialist clothing for disabled children and Pret a Manger in making all its shops accessible. In addition, almost 3000 firms, many in the FTSE 250, have already signed up to the Disability Confident scheme for employers. Others are providing the tools to do more, such as Good Food Talks, providing accessible menus for visually impaired people. Even in the financial services sector, Fish Insurance and others are offering services tailored for disabled people. Making the most of the Purple Pound is not just about offering specialist products.
Businesses must ensure that inclusivity and accessibility is imbedded in the education of tomorrow's planners and designers, and they must increase the amount of consumer information available to the public, and enable the production and swift take up of products and services disabled people want and need. This is not about a political agenda or just to abiding by law, it is about businesses using their initiative and doing what makes business sense.
Government has its role to play too. We must find a better way to enforce the Equalities Act, rather than require the injured party to sue a business, and we must, through legislation and legal action, get tougher on those organisations and industries who ignore or, worse still, exploit disabled people. We must support entrepreneurs, many of whom will be disabled themselves, and remove the obstacles holding them back. That is why we are redoubling our efforts to halve the disability employment gap, supporting business to deliver for all its customers and consulting on ways we can improve health and employment services through our Work and Health Green Paper.
For all the challenges facing governments and their economies around the world equality for disabled people is not just a big part of the answer; it is the entire margin of victory. To deliver the cultural change required to make disability issues mainstream we need consumer power and the global reach of business to grasp this agenda. Unless we enable every one of our citizens to reach their full potential, our Nation never will.
Penny Mordaunt is the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, and Conservative MP for Portsmouth North