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Disability Employment Gap

Volume 801: debated on Wednesday 12 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in reducing the disability employment gap.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the National Autistic Society.

My Lords, the employment rate for disabled people stands at 53.2%, having increased by 9.8 percentage points over the past six years. The employment rate gap between disabled and non-disabled people has fallen by 5.6 percentage points over the same period.

I welcome, as I am sure the whole House does, the improvement the Minister just told us about, but there has been no increase whatever in the number of autistic people in work—for the last 10 years. Just 16 in every 100 people who are autistic are in full-time employment. Addressing the lack of understanding about autism across business and industry is key to trying to solve this problem. Will the Government establish an information hub, providing employers with support and information to improve recruitment of autistic people? Could I tempt her to be even more daring and perhaps consider creating an autism accreditation scheme so that participating companies get full recognition for the efforts they put in?

The noble Lord makes very accurate and real points. I spoke to the National Autistic Society this morning. Some 16% of autistic adults are in work and 32% of them are in some kind of paid work, but the real statistic is that 77% of unemployed autistic adults want to work. The noble Lord rightly pointed out that we must get to that figure. The disability hub is a great idea. I will go back to the department with yet another idea—their eyes roll now when I walk in, but I will do it. I will not be put off by that. I can confirm that the Government are also working with the Supported Business Alliance and the British Association for Supported Employment to help them develop a new quality mark for supportive businesses and develop a long-term element of access to work to continue the support. However, there is no doubt that we have a lot more to do and I will take both those ideas back to the department.

My Lords, we do not have any flesh on the bones of the national disability strategy yet. There are many issues involved in closing the disability employment gap: suitable housing, adequate care and better education opportunities, to name but a few. Will the Minister consider hosting a round table with Members of this House who have expertise in this subject, so that we have as much consensus as possible going forward?

How can I say no to the noble Baroness? That is another great idea. It fits very well with the national disability strategy, which will, I am pleased to say, be developed with disabled people and disability charities and organisations, and will cover the areas outlined by the noble Baroness—housing, education, transport and jobs—so that people can improve their lives. I will be delighted to go back to the department, not to suggest a round table but to say that we are having one.

My Lords, can I add another idea to my noble friend the Minister’s list? It is testament to the influence of your Lordships’ House that only last week I introduced a Bill on exactly this issue, which already has the backing of major corporates such as EY and Enterprise Holdings. They know that there must be a level playing field for rewarding and incentivising best practice. Will the Minister take this idea back not just to her department but to the Government as a whole, for incorporation in the forthcoming employment Bill, so that the mandatory gender pay gap reporting duty is extended to other protected characteristics, including disability?

I am going to start singing “I’ve Got a Little List” in a minute. I congratulate the noble Lord on his tenacity in this area. His work on Able to Excel and his Private Member’s Bill were excellent. In 2018, the Government published a voluntary reporting framework on disability, mental health and well-being in the workplace, aimed at large employers—those with more than 250 employees. In November, we announced the new level 3 of Disability Confident. We must work with businesses to crack that 77% of people who want to work. Employers create jobs; we must work closely with them. My noble friend’s work will help with this. I will arrange for him to come in and do the sell on that one.

My Lords, in following up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, about information for employers, does the Minister agree that often we are not asking for something profound or difficult? It is just tackling basic information about the subject. We could do a great deal with very little effort.

I could not agree more with the noble Lord. I was on a project recently where a young girl with bags of potential who had epilepsy thought she would never get a job because she thought that nobody would risk having her in their establishment. The people running the project found a lady who ran a business and who was epileptic. She said, “You send her down to me.” She is now employed as a legal secretary. That did not take a great deal of effort. The way for us to make headway with those statistics is by remembering that everybody is an individual and by spending time working out a strategy for the individual.

My Lords, in this important area Britain is proud to be a leader in many ways—in technology, computing and so on—and many of these projects, which are transforming the lives of some people with certain kinds of disabilities, have been run across Europe, so there are worries that some of these projects may not continue. Can the Minister assure the House that priority will be given to helping this world-leading development continue? It is making an impact on people with disabilities not only in our own country but right across the world as the technology is rolled out.

Whether our people have a disability or they are well able, the jobs that we want them to get into will focus on technology in the future. I cannot give a categoric assurance that those projects will continue, but I can give a categoric assurance that we will continue to focus on the tech industry. I will go back and ask another question and, if I survive that, I shall write to the right reverend Prelate and let him know the outcome.