Sense gives evidence to MPs about disability employment

Evan wearing a suit sat at a table in parliament.  His hand is raised as he is making a point when he speaks.

Last week, I gave evidence on behalf of Sense at an inquiry in Parliament. Not because I’d done anything wrong, although it might sound like that, but because of Sense’s expertise in the focus of the inquiry – disability employment.

Why were Sense invited to give evidence?

The role of Parliament is to hold the Government to account, and one of the ways it does this is through Select Committees made up of MPs and Peers. These Committees carry out inquiries into particular issues, holding evidence sessions with a range of experts before writing a final report.

Earlier this year, the Work and Pensions Committee launched an inquiry into disability employment. We replied to their call for evidence, setting out the barriers to employment faced by people with complex disabilities, and what more the Government should do to support disabled jobseekers and employees. We focused particularly on the employment research we carried out last year, which found that half of jobseekers with complex disabilities did not have the support and equipment they needed to look for work.

As a result of our written evidence, the Committee invited Sense to appear on a panel answering questions from MPs on the Committee.

What did Sense say at the session?

As the Policy and Public Affairs Advisor leading on welfare and employment policy, I went to the inquiry to give evidence on Sense’s behalf. Georgia Harper, from Autistica, and Alison Thwaite, from the Down Syndrome Association, also appeared on the panel.

Barries to employment

I started the session by taking the Committee through the barriers to work faced by people with complex disabilities, only 13% of whom are in full-time employment. These include our education system’s low aspirations for disabled people, a lack of suitable jobs, unfair recruitment practices and employers’ attitudes to disability.

The rise in working from home

The Committee were interested in knowing whether the shift towards remote working has removed some of these barriers, as the Government has claimed.

It’s true that some disabled people have benefited from this development. But working from home is not a panacea.

Not all jobs can even be done from home, with the Office for National Statistics finding that half of disabled employees cannot work from home at all. Ultimately, many of the barriers faced by disabled people have nothing to do with the challenge of physically going into the office.

I took the opportunity to highlight Sense’s research into the experiences of jobseekers and employees with complex disabilities. We found that no jobcentres had the specialist assistive technology many disabled people need to use computers, while half of jobseekers with complex disabilities did not feel supported by their Work Coaches.

Sadly, this isn’t surprising, as Work Coaches do not even seem to receive disability equality training focused on disabled jobseekers.  

The barriers do not stop when someone enters the workplace either, with 44% of employees with complex disabilities saying they’d been bullied or harassed at work. Over one in 10 said that employers had not been willing to make reasonable adjustments, despite it being a legal duty under the Equality Act.

The Committee seemed particularly responsive to our call for a £5 million Jobcentre Assistive Technology Fund, which would equip all of Britain’s jobcentres with specialist assistive technology.

What happens next?

Sense has already sent a letter to the Committee following up on the evidence we gave, setting out more detail on our call for a Jobcentre Assistive Technology Fund. We’ll also be reaching out to individual members of the Committee to offer them the chance to discuss the issues we raised during the session.  

The Committee may hold more evidence sessions with other experts. If not, then the Committee will likely hold one final session with the Minister for Disabled People, Mims Davies MP, giving the Government the opportunity to respond to the points raised during the inquiry. After that, the Committee will publish its report on Disability Employment, which we hope could back our findings.

You can watch the session in full on the parliament website. Sadly there aren’t captions available on this but a full transcript has been published. We have subtitled some clips from the session and shared them on on our twitter channel.