08 November 2016

The Disability Gap: government consults on employers' role in keeping disabled people at work

This article was written by Tamsin Rickard, Professional Support Lawyer

The Department for Work and Pensions has launched a consultation and Green Paper on closing "the disability gap": the statistic that fewer than half of disabled people in the UK are employed, compared to around 80% of the non-disabled population. The government is seeking views as to how to tackle this “significant injustice” (and, one might assume more cynically, how to reduce demands on the welfare bill) by supporting people with disabilities and health conditions to enter and remain in the workforce: "to enjoy the independence, security and good health that being in work can bring”.

The consultation is extremely wide-ranging, seeking views on 45 questions dealing with a number of aspects of this issue, from potential responders including disabled people, health and care professionals and voluntary organisations. With such breadth of subject matter, it is difficult to anticipate in detail what concrete policies may emerge from the Green Paper.

However, the consultation specifically targets employers as part of any solution for closing the disability gap. In particular, it asks responders to give views on how employers can:

  • be encouraged to recruit and retain disabled people and those with health conditions;

  • actively support and nurture health and well-being at work;

  • be encouraged to offer group income protection policies to staff (as well as asking what role the insurance industry should play in supporting recruitment and retention of disabled people);

  • have more fruitful discussions with disabled people, healthcare professionals and JobCentre Plus work coaches about the type of work a disabled person can do (presumably rather than what they cannot do).

What does this mean for employers?

Whilst there are no specific policies proposed as yet the government’s intent is clear: disabled people should be encouraged to work and employers should do more to support this.  This may herald further obligations for employers beyond those under the familiar Equality Act provisions preventing discrimination against disabled people. Whilst the duty to make reasonable adjustments obliges employers to take positive steps to accommodate disabled candidates and employees, the Green Paper suggests the government may go further: by taking steps actively to encourage, incentivise or even compel employers to recruit and retain disabled people in employment.  It remains to be seen how far the government will go down this route. Interestingly, the consultation asks for feedback on various aspects of how the fit note and fit for work scheme is working, suggesting these may be areas for review. Views are also sought on whether the statutory sick pay scheme should be reformed to encourage a phased return to work.

The consultation can be found and responded to here.

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