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Disability Confident Scheme

Volume 633: debated on Monday 18 December 2017

Over 5,000 employers have signed up to Disability Confident since its launch in November 2016. The Disability Confident business leaders group, made up of prominent national businesses, is promoting the scheme to other employers. I am pleased to report that all the main ministerial Government Departments have now achieved Disability Confident leader status.

Does the Secretary of State agree that Disability Confident will prove to be an effective way of breaking down barriers for disabled people to get into work, particularly by addressing the issues of stigma that a lot of disabled people still feel? In that regard, would he consider attending my Disability Confident event in Halesowen on 26 January?

I will certainly consider my hon. Friend’s kind invitation. I agree that a lot of Disability Confident events have been very productive in engaging employers at local level and encouraging them to see the benefits of employing disabled people. The Department for Work and Pensions continues to support local authorities and MPs in holding such events, so maybe I will have the opportunity to attend one in his constituency.

The truth is that this simply is not working. My constituent, Alan, has just graduated with a BSc honours degree in computing technology. He is blind and has a guide dog to assist him, but when he tells prospective employers about this in advance, they just do not take his applications. He has applied for 857 jobs but he has got absolutely nowhere. What is he going to do?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. We have undoubtedly made progress in the last few years. We have 600,000 more disabled people in work than was the case in 2010, but there is more to do, which is why the Government have an ambition to increase the number from 3.5 million to 4.5 million over the course of 10 years. It is also why we published our recent Command Paper on the subject. It is really important to bring about a culture change among employers so that people like Alan can have those opportunities.

That is a very good question, and I will have to write to my hon. Friend with the answer. I can tell him that businesses small and large have participated in the scheme, including large organisations such as Microsoft, GlaxoSmithKline, Sainsbury’s and Channel 4, as well as many small businesses up and down the country.

May I take this opportunity on behalf of my colleagues on the Scottish National party Benches to offer our sincere condolences to Mr Deputy Speaker after the weekend’s tragic incident? Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to Lindsay and his family.

The Chancellor told the Treasury Select Committee earlier this month that

“far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example, by disabled people, may have had an impact on the overall productivity measurement”.

The Chancellor belittled the efforts and contribution of disabled people in the workforce. How disappointed was the Secretary of State by that unhelpful statement?

First, I should like to associate myself with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the Deputy Speaker, who has the thoughts of the whole House with him at this time.

In respect of the hon. Gentleman’s question, however, I disagree with him. The point that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was seeking to make is that we have made great progress in recent years on increasing the level of disabled people in work. That is a good thing to do, and he made it clear that he considered it to be a good thing. That is what the whole Government want to achieve.

The small employment adviser at Rugby jobcentre has just signed up 15 new employers to become Disability Confident. Does the Secretary of State agree that the role of those officers in building links with small employers in local areas is crucial to ensuring that more disabled people get access to the workplace?

Yes, I do. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is really important that that engagement happens up and down the country, and I am pleased that we are making progress. As I have said, we have over 5,000 Disability Confident employers, and I hope that we will continue to increase that number. My Department will certainly be doing everything it can to achieve that.

In the recently published “Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families” paper, the Government said that they wanted to work in partnership with employers to help them to draw fully on the talents of disabled people. However, following the Chancellor’s recent comments scapegoating disabled people as being the reason for low productivity, does the Secretary of State agree that there is a need for a clear and coherent message from the Government that employing disabled people can enhance productivity and make a real contribution to organisations and businesses across the UK?

There is a clear and coherent message from this Government. We have seen significant increases in the number of disabled people in work, which is good for disabled people, but it is also good for the economy as a whole. That continues to be our message, and that is why we published our “Improving Lives” document. We will continue to work to improve the opportunities for disabled people in the labour market.