WBS leads on new Disability Employment Charter

01 November 2021

  • Charter substantially underpinned by WBS Professor Kim Hoque's research
  • Document outlines steps to tackle disadvantages facing disabled workers
  • Measures include increased transparency on pay gaps and stronger rights
  • First companies sign Charter, including FTSE giant PageGroup

Warwick Business School’s Professor Kim Hoque has joined forces with leading UK organisations to launch a Disability Employment Charter urging the government to end discrimination against disabled people.

The founder members of the Charter are the Business Disability Forum, the DFN Charitable Foundation, Disability Rights UK, Disability@Work, Leonard Cheshire, Scope, the Shaw Trust Foundation, UNISON, and the University of Warwick.

In addition to the founder members, demonstrating the growing consensus in support of the Charter’s proposals, more than 40 other charities and Disabled People’s Organisations have signed, including Unite, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Sense, and Mencap.

The Charter calls on the government to:

  • Increase transparency by requiring large employers to publish annual data on the number of disabled people they employ as a proportion of their workforce and their pay gaps.
  • Make the option to work flexibly from day one the legal default for all jobs.
  • Leverage government procurement spending to improve disabled people’s employment outcomes.
  • Create stronger rights to paid disability leave for assessments, rehabilitation, and training.
  • Introduce improvements to the Disability Confident and Access to Work schemes.
  • Increase Statutory Sick Pay to the European average.

It also calls for employers to notify employees on decisions regarding reasonable adjustment requests within two weeks.

The Charter has also been signed by University of Warwick.

Professor Christine Ennew, University of Warwick Provost, commented: “We are hugely proud of the work that Kim has been leading to drive improvements in the working environment for disabled people.

"This is academic research at its best; a systematic programme of work which has led to the development of a Charter which clearly identifies the actions that are required to bring down the barriers that disabled people face in accessing, and succeeding in, the workplace. The University of Warwick is delighted to be a signatory and founder member of the Charter.”

Professor Kim Hoque, co-founder of Disability@Work, first conceived the idea for the Charter several years ago, and working in close collaboration with the Charter’s other founder members over the past year has now made it a reality.

Many of the Charter’s calls on government are based on policy recommendations stemming from his research, and that of his Disability@Work colleagues.

He said “My Disability@Work colleagues and I raised many of the proposals within the Charter with the Minister for Disabled People, the Cabinet Office Disability Unit, and the DWP prior to the publication of the National Disability Strategy, but ultimately the Strategy offered little more than a review of the government’s Disability Confident scheme, and a consultation on mandatory reporting”.

“The Charter provides a powerful and timely message to government from the country’s leading organisations representing disabled people that there is an overwhelming need for more robust government action, and broad consensus regarding the form this action should take.

"The number of signatories to the Charter will be very difficult for the government to ignore.”

Kamran Malik, CEO of Disability Rights UK (one of the charter’s founder members) said: “Disabled people face a range of hurdles in finding and progressing in work, which just shouldn’t be there. The Charter simply and powerfully sets out the concerted actions that Government needs to take to move the dial forward. It’s not enough to tinker round the edges, we need a bold plan to bring down the barriers.”   

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea added: “Disabled workers often wait far too long for even the most simple of workplace adjustments to be put in place. The government should give employers a two-week deadline to agree the required changes to offices and equipment. This would help prevent employees leaving their roles frustrated at lengthy delays".

The Government heralded its National Disability Strategy, launched this year following its announcement by the Prime Minister in the 2019 elections, as a chance to ‘build back better and fairer for all our disabled people’.

However, it was criticised by some disability rights campaigners and even the Government’s own party as falling short of the transformational plan that many expected – with Conservative Peer Lord Shinkwin describing the plans as a “damp squib.”

Lord Shinkwin, Chair of the Centre for Social Justice Disability Commission from 2020 to 2021, said: “The Government should stop using business as a feeble fig leaf for inaction and instead celebrate the example some corporates are already setting.

“Transparent and consistent data reporting, the lead call of this Charter, is the first step towards building a level playing field on which businesses can compete for top disabled talent. It’s time the Government built on the success of gender pay gap reporting and realised the potential of this tool to bring about true meritocracy and equality of opportunity.”

Currently, disabled people face a disability employment gap that has remained persistently high over the past decade at 30 percentage points, and a pay gap of 19.6%, alongside poorer work-life balance, job-related mental health, and job satisfaction.

Disabled people have also been particularly negatively affected by the pandemic: 21 in every 1,000 disabled people were made redundant in 2020, compared to 13 in every thousand for the rest of the population.

Commenting on this, Gemma Hope, Director of Policy at Leonard Cheshire said: “Disabled people’s work life has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. With the labour market slowly improving the government must close the disability employment gap so disabled people are not further left behind.”

Clare Gray, Shaw Trust Foundation Organisational Lead for Disability Advocacy and Accessibility added: “Despite the job market improving, too many people miss out from opportunities that good work can bring, and the disability employment gap remains stubbornly high.”

The Charter’s founders also argue that addressing the barriers disabled people encounter in employment is not only the right thing to do, but additionally make good business sense by giving employers access to the widest talent pool and helping them address skills shortages, thereby enabling disabled workers to contribute to the post-Covid recovery.

PageGroup became the first FTSE company to sign up to the Charter, with HR consultancy Delsion Ltd also on board.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, commented: “The Charter sets out the responsibilities that we all have - as business, government and providers - to work with disabled people to find solutions and to recognise the valuable contribution that everyone can make to the workforce.”

To find out more about the Charter, and how individuals and businesses can help to support its aims, please visit: www.disabilityemploymentcharter.org.

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