People with Disabilities: Access to Services - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 1:33 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Shinkwin Lord Shinkwin Ceidwadwyr 1:33, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, for this important opportunity to reflect holistically on the significant challenges that disabled people continue to encounter in so many aspects of their lives, as my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Baroness Grey-Thompson, made clear. Like the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, I shall focus on employment, in my case as a former chair of a CSJ disability commission and the current chair of the IoD commission on the future of business: harnessing diverse talent for success. I refer Members to my register of interests in that regard.

I ask myself, from a disabled person’s perspective, what success in addressing the challenges we face in employment might look like. What are the key performance indicators I would expect to see? Take the KPI of closing the disability employment gap, which my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond has mentioned. What progress has been made there? Not that much, it seems; it hovers stubbornly at around 30%, partly because disability prevalence at work has increased from 16.5% in 2013 to 24.6% in 2024. I would be grareful if my noble friend could tell me to what extent the DWP takes disability prevalence into account when calculating the disability employment gap.

I turn to Disability Confident, the Government’s flagship employment scheme for disabled people. How effective has that been? The DWP claims that 11 million people are now employed by Disability Confident firms, so surely there is clear evidence of a corresponding step-change improvement in both the disability employment gap and the disability pay gap. We know the answer on the disability employment gap. On the disability pay gap, the IoD commission that I chair recommended mandatory workforce reporting for big business, which would allow for its calculation. The director-general and I wrote to the Prime Minister 18 months ago, but to the best of my knowledge we have not received even an acknowledgment. That may not be a KPI, but it is certainly a revealing indicator of the Government’s disdain, which, unfortunately, was also on display in their car crash of an announcement last December about the role of the Minister for Disabled People.

What is the evidence that the Government’s flagship Disability Confident scheme actually improves disability employment outcomes? According to Professor Kim Hoque, from King’s College London, and Professor Nick Bacon—both of whom are from Disability@Work—the percentage of the workforce that is disabled is no higher in Disability Confident level 1 or level 3 organisations, and only marginally higher in private sector level 2 organisations, than in non-Disability Confident organisations. Also, the percentage of the workforce that is disabled is no higher, and disabled employees’ experiences of work no better, in organisations in the Disability Confident business leaders’ group than in non-Disability Confident organisations. Can my noble friend tell me how these findings are meant to inspire confidence among the primary stakeholders of the scheme—that is, disabled people?

Is my noble friend aware that, of the 129,000 jobs listed on the DWP’s Find a Job service, only 0.51% are fully remote and just 2.75% are listed as being hybrid remote? As Professor Hoque said when he gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in the other place earlier this month:

“The idea that there are all of these working from home opportunities out there for disabled people … is just a complete myth”,

not least because competition for those jobs, scarce as they are, is going to be even higher.

Unjustified disability discrimination may have been outlawed on paper by the DDA 30 years ago, as already mentioned, but, far from being eradicated, it has in my experience as a disabled person instead become normalised because of a lack of enforcement, which has been informed not by malice but by a deficit of lived experience. Subsumed within the EHRC since the abolition of the Disability Rights Commission, the unique nature of disability and, thus, the need for reasonable adjustments has meant that disability is the heaviest stone, which inevitably falls to the bottom of the equality policy pond—and there it stays.

I want to look beyond where we are now to the next Parliament. I hope that the next UK Government recognise in policy design and implementation that our lived experience as disabled people is not only valid but valuable, and that harnessing it adds value and reduces costs over the medium term. I hope that the next UK Government carry out a review, led by a disabled person, of what is needed to ensure that the legislative framework is actually delivering in the way it was intended to for disabled people; and that, at the very least, that Government abide by the recommendations of the House of Lords ad hoc Select Committee, so ably led by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, which found almost 10 years ago that the Equality Act 2010 was not working for disabled people.

In conclusion, unless and until disabled people are brought into the decision-making process on merit, including as Members of your Lordships’ House, the challenges we are discussing will remain and we will be having exactly the same debate in 10 years’ time as we are today.