Not a single jobcentre offers tech to help disabled people find work

A woman in a wheelchair wearing blue and sitting in front of a bookcase
Jade Cotton is one of the people Sense supports through its employment services, following a poor experience with her local jobcentre

27 April 2023 – A jobcentre should be a place where you can access everything you need to look for work, but a new report, published today, reveals that disabled jobseekers across Britain are being failed by a lack of adequate support and equipment.

The employment report, by the national disability charity Sense, lays bare the barriers preventing disabled people from finding work, focusing on the experience of people living with complex disabilities. According to Sense, eight in ten (82 per cent) people with complex disabilities are unemployed*, with new research**revealing that one in two (50 per cent) do not believe they are receiving the support they need to find work.

One of the key findings of today’s report highlights that the jobcentres across the country are without specialist assistive technology on their computers, making it more difficult for those who rely on it to look and apply for work onsite.

Assistive technology can take many forms, such as text to speech screen readers, dictation software and braille displays, and make it possible for some disabled people, such as those with sight and hearing impairments, to use computers.

However, the technology can be costly***, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) only funds this equipment once someone is in work. Those who are looking for work often can’t afford to buy it for themselves, and this means that they need support from external services to look and apply for work. 

Currently, the computers in jobcentres only offer Microsoft’s ‘standard accessibility features’, which Sense says is inadequate. The charity is calling on the government to provide specialist assistive technology in its jobcentres through a ‘Jobcentre Assistive Technology Fund’, which, it says, is a relatively low-cost change that will make a huge difference. Nearly a third (31 per cent) of jobseekers with complex disabilities said that the move would help them to find work.

Today’s report also highlights other failings.

Work Coaches, a jobseeker’s first and main point of contact at a jobcentre, provide support looking for work, helping to identify their skills and strengths, and assisting during applications and preparing for interviews. However, over half (54 per cent) of jobseekers with complex disabilities told the charity that they did not feel supported by their Work Coach, with less than a quarter (23 per cent) who had visited having received one to one support. This is little surprise, as the report reveals that the initial training course for Work Coaches doesn’t include disability equality training focused on disabled jobseekers. The charity says all frontline staff at jobcentres should get appropriate training to help them to support disabled jobseekers to find work.

Zoe Bates is the Sense employment coordinator. She runs the charity’s employment service, supporting people with complex disabilities to develop the skills they need to secure employment. Jobcentres often refer disabled jobseekers to Sense, but even in areas where the charity provides specialist employment support, jobcentres should still be meeting the needs of people with complex disabilities.

Zoe Bates said:

“Everyone should be able to work if they want to work. And while employment isn’t right for everyone, many disabled people find that having a job enriches their lives.

There are many people living with complex disabilities that want to work, and with the right support they will thrive, but sadly they’re being denied at the first hurdle – the job search.

If the government is serious about reducing the disability employment gap and getting more disabled people into work, as it announced in the Spring Budget, then the right support must be in place.

Jobcentres are the frontline tool government use for supporting people to find work, but they aren’t being provided with the equipment and training that they need to do this.

The introduction of assistive technology and specialist training for all frontline jobcentre staff so that they can support people with more complex needs would make a huge difference, with the value outweighing the cost.”

Elsewhere in the report, the experiences and challenges facing disabled people once they find employment are highlighted:

  • One in six (15 per cent) people with complex disabilities in work do not feel their disability is well understood by their employer.
  • Two in five (44 per cent) people with complex disabilities in work said that they had been harassed or bullied at work.
  • Only a quarter of people with complex disabilities (25 per cent) have had an opportunity to engage with work experience or voluntary work.

Case study: ‘I wasn’t given the opportunity to look for work’

a man is kneeling next to a woman in a wheelchair on the pavement
Jade Cotton, pictured with her husband, Andy

One person eager to find a job is Jade Cotton. Jade, 35, from Birmingham, is non-verbal and registered blind. She, like many people with complex disabilities, has had a bad experience in jobcentres.

Jade says:

“When I attended the jobcentre, I wasn’t given the opportunity or encouraged to look for work on their computers. If I was, I’d have needed a joystick that I could grip and magnifying software to enlarge the fonts, which they don’t have.”

Jade has now been introduced to Sense’s employment service and has been successful in securing interviews, and she hopes to soon land her first job.

“Before I used Sense’s employment service, I didn’t have a clue that I could work at all. I’d always been told that I won’t get a job because of my disabilities and challenged me on this and made me realise there was no reason I couldn’t try. Nobody else had ever told me I could so I just didn’t know it was an option until then.”

Sense offers tailored employment support, training and job coaching to people with complex disabilities. The charity’s employment specialists can help people to fill in applications for benefits, access support schemes such as Access to Work, and use assistive technology.

The employment report is available here:

Notes to editors:

*Findings drawn from secondary analysis of data collected in the 2020-21 wave of the Family Resource Survey (FRS) which provides the most up-to-date snapshot of household experiences and financial situations.

**Polling of 1,005 people with complex disabilities on their experiences of looking for and being in employment, commissioned by Sense and undertaken by Censuswide. Fieldwork undertaken between 25 and 31 January 2023. Jobseekers with complex disabilities are those who described their employment status as “I don’t have a paid job or volunteering role, but I would like to have one”.

***One popular screen reader is £700.