The Conservative Party manifesto at the last election set out the "bold aim" of full employment. In what looks to be promising news for the Government, the UK jobless rate has since fallen to the lowest it has been in a decade at just 5.1%.
However, for people with disabilities, the story isn't so encouraging. The employment rate gap between able bodied and those individuals with disabilities has stayed static at around 30% for the last ten years, with little sign of movement.
The Government knows that if it wants to achieve the aim of full employment, then it must close this gap. As part of their Disability Confident campaign they have set an ambitious target of halving it, which would see an additional one million disabled people successfully move into work.
If successful, the rewards would be significant. It has been estimated by Scope that Britain's economy would be boosted by £45 million a year, and it would certainly have a transformative effect on the lives of the individuals securing jobs. In my experience, the successful job entrant doesn't just benefit from financial independence, but also a lift in self-esteem and confidence.
In addition, hiring a person with disabilities has been shown to have significant benefits for employers. In a recent survey 87% of companies reported that by bringing a person with disabilities on board, they gained a valuable and retainable employee, while almost 70% of employers found that their working environment improved. There is also now also evidence of higher retention rates with disabled employees and commercial benefits from better customer service.
To succeed in employment support for those with disabilities, it is crucial to offer a tailored approach, designed around each individual's specific barriers. This is significantly different to the more generic support that might be enough for many able bodied job seekers.
This need was evidenced in the outcomes of the Work Programme. While it worked very well for job seekers who didn't have too complex needs, it didn't work as well when someone needed a more personalised package of support, including many disabled people.
To state the obvious, no two disabilities are the same, and disabilities have differing impacts on each person's ability to work. Therefore, when seeking to address employment challenges for the disabled, it is essential to understand each individual's circumstances and the impact this will have on the work they can do and what might or might not be suitable for them. For example, an individual with autism may struggle with complex social interactions, but could excel in tasks that require close attention to detail or are repetitive in nature. With the right support, it should be possible for all disabled job seekers to be matched with a job that suits their skills and abilities.
Last September Kennedy Scott became one of six prime providers on the Government's new Specialist Employability Support programme. We aim to help individual's overcome the barriers they have to employment, as well as forming positive relationships with employers so that once an individual finds suitable work, they have every support necessary to help them stay in employment.
To do this, we build a "circle of support" around the individual - comprising of everyone from their family and friends, to their GP, housing officers and any other specialists who are involved in their care. This ensures that all of an individual's needs are being met holistically which, in turn, helps to cultivate a sense of confidence and self-esteem, and to overcome any barriers they have that are standing in the way of a their career. After our clients have found a job, we work with their employer to support them through their first few months of employment. Although still early days, we have so far had some very encouraging results and I am confident that this will continue.
To make sure these positive results can continue, the government must ensure that schemes like SES remain viable for providers to deliver the support that is needed. Currently, welfare to work providers are 'paid by results'. This arguably lacks nuance and doesn't take into account the differing needs of individuals, or the length of time necessary to help a person with disabilities, overcome their barriers and secure a sustainable job.
The Government should look at examples from Australia, where the Department of Human Services classify individuals according to their need, and the providers get paid appropriately. This also allows providers to focus on those who need the most help, and allow them to have smaller caseloads.
Furthermore, the Government currently caps numbers on the programme each month and our experience is that demand always exceeds supply. The Government should consider scrapping this cap in order to give more people the best chance of succeeding.
Achieving full employment is a fantastic and realistic aim, but if the Government is serious about doing so they must acknowledge the need to treat jobseekers as individuals with differing needs because success for people with disabilities is the key to long term success for full employment.