Disability Agenda Scotland (DAS) says there are an estimated 284,300 disabled working-age people in the country, and many experience lower rates of employment and pay than the rest of society. Its report, ‘Bridging the Gap’, is calling for both the Scottish and UK governments to take action to narrow the gap by 2025.
Young people with disabilities fare particularly badly, says DAS. According to research, although half were in further education nine months after leaving school, by the time they were 26 they were four times more likely to be unemployed as their non-disabled peers.
DAS wants the Scottish Government to set ‘realistic but ambitious’ targets to close the employment gap; more resources to support those in work; and public sector organisations to lead by example in recruitment. Employing moredisabled people could be one criterion to assess businesses bidding for public sector contracts, it suggests.
DAS chair Delia Henry said: “While some disabled people are not able to work, for others being in work has both economic and social benefits. But they face barriers to entering the labour market – not just physical or related to their mental health - but also in terms of societal and employer attitudes.
“Employment rates have actually fallen among some groups, such as those living with sight loss, who now have an employment rate of 29 per cent.”
She added: “There are opportunities posed by the devolution of key aspects of social security and employment support to do things differently in Scotland, especially in terms of linking the new social security system with employment support.
“More effort should also be made to reduce the number of people forced to leave their job due to a disability – 83 per cent of people with a disability acquire it while in work, while 400,000 people quit the UK workforce every year after developing a work-limiting condition.”
DAS recommends improved careers advice and enhanced funding for young disabled people taking up college and modern apprenticeship places. It is calling for all Jobcentre staff to receive disability awareness training, and for more disability employment advisers.
But DAS says it is ‘deeply concerned’ by the planned closures of JobCentres across the UK, particularly in Glasgow. “This will impede people’s ability to access advice and support and will affect the most vulnerable the most,” Ms Henry warned.
Scottish Labour economy spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: "This report should be considered carefully by the SNP government in Edinburgh and the UK Tory government. It is clear that Scotland is falling well short of an inclusive economy that works for everyone. Scottish Labour has long said that the SNP Government should set better rules for awarding public contracts to set an example of the kind of economy we could have instead - decent, well paid work where everyone has a fair opportunity. This report also highlights the fallacy of closing down Jobcentres across Scotland - cruel twisted logic from the Tories which will just harm the poorest and most vulnerable in our society."
Shadow Health Secretary, Miles Briggs, said: “I am very concerned that there is a gap of 31 per cent between employment for people with a disability and Scotland as a whole. There should be no barriers to people with a disability entering the labour market and the resources needed to support them in their jobs should be available.
“It is apparent that more work needs to be done in terms of societal and cultural change to bridge the employment gap between people with a disability and Scotland as a whole. It is especially concerning that the employment gap has widened for some groups with a disability.
“The UK government’s welfare reforms have the key aim of supporting everyone, including disabled people, to move from benefits and into work”
“The Scottish Government has substantial new welfare powers and should use these, as well as training policies, to give tailored support to disabled people wanting to enter the workforce.”