DWP urged to reduce disability employment gap

Published: July 30 2021
Last updated: October 14 2022

The Work and Pensions Committee has called on the government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to be “bolder in its ambitions” to support disabled people to find and stay in work.

The Work and Pensions Committee has today released a report entitled ‘Disability employment gap’ shortly after the DWP’s National Disability Strategy which was published on 28 July.

The report by the Work and Pensions Committee was in part informed by evidence from organisations, including Epilepsy Action, on the challenges disabled people face with employment. People with epilepsy are one of the groups that are most severely affected by the disability employment gap.

The report urges the DWP to readopt its previous target of halving the disability employment gap, which has stayed at around 30% over the years. It has also called for the DWP to introduce a target of getting an additional 1.2 million disabled people in work by 2027. The report has criticised the lack of ambition in setting a new target, saying the current target the DWP has is benefitting from a general rise in employment rather than a reduction in the disability employment gap.

Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, MP Stephen Timms, has also said a more localised, rather than centralised, approach to providing support for people is needed, that is “personalised, flexible and effective”. He also stressed that disabled people should be involved in the conversations and decision-making, in order for changes to be useful and fit-for-purpose. “Only then can we start to break down barriers to employment and ensure everyone has equal opportunities when it comes to work,” he said.

The report has echoed many of the recommendations made by Epilepsy Action, including for more transparency, better benefits systems and more targeted assessment processes. The report has suggested that employers with more than 250 employees should publish data on the proportion of workers who are disabled, and for employers who “flout the law” around reasonable adjustments to be “named and shamed”. The report also stresses that disabled people should be supported to work flexibly and wherever best suits them – including at home where possible.The Work and Pensions Committee has also said various schemes and assessments need to be redesigned. These include Access to Work, a scheme intended to support people with extra costs for practical support in the workplace and the Disability Confident programme, that educates employers on the benefits of recruiting disabled employees. They also include the Work Capability Assessment for people applying for Employment Support Allowance. They are currently time-consuming and not fit for purpose, and need to be improved, the report suggests.

Daniel Jennings, senior policy and campaigns officer at Epilepsy Action, who gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee on behalf of the organisation, said: “Epilepsy Action welcomes the Work and Pensions Committee’s report into the disability employment gap. We know that people with epilepsy are one of the groups most severely affected. This is despite the fact that many can have successful careers and stay in work with minimal reasonable adjustments from their employers.

“We are pleased that the committee has accepted many of the recommendations made in both our oral and written evidence to the inquiry. We agree that both Access to Work and Disability Confident need to be reformed to support people with epilepsy in securing, and staying in, their jobs.

“We also welcome the recommendation that employers should be required to publish data on the proportion of workers who are disabled, as an effective way of holding them to account and closing the disability employment gap.

“This report comes on the back of the government’s National Disability Strategy which had been touted as a transformational plan for disabled people. But it lacked any detail on how this so-called transformation would actually be achieved. We will continue to raise these issues with the government to ensure that much more is done to close the disability employment gap, particularly for people with epilepsy.”

The full Disability employment gap report and the National Disability Strategy can be accessed online.

Epilepsy Action has recently released its Employer toolkit, which aims to give organisations the confidence to better support employees with epilepsy in the workplace. You can also find information about employment and epilepsy on the Epilepsy Action website.