social reform

Making social reform work for disabled people

In her first speech as Prime Minister Theresa May set out her “mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone”. She spoke of helping those who are “just about managing” and promised that her Government will do “everything they can” to give people more control over their lives.

Here at Scope, we recognise the image of people who are “just about managing”. We know many people who want more control over their lives.

Life costs more if you’re disabled. On average disabled people spend £550 a month on disability-related outgoings. It makes making ends meet much harder.

Only around half of disabled people work, despite the vast majority wanting to work and hundreds of thousands of disabled people being ready to work and looking for a job right now.

There are still too many societal barriers getting in the way of disabled people living independent lives.

So we were pleased to partner with Bright Blue at Conservative Party Conference to host a discussion about how government can make the social reform the Prime Minister promises work for disabled people.

Action is needed in three key areas if we are to see greater opportunities for the 12.9 million disabled people in the UK:

Tackling the disability employment gap

The 2015 Conservative Manifesto included a welcome commitment to halve the disability employment gap, which has remained at around 30% for the last decade.  The upcoming Green Paper on disability, health and employment provides the Government with an opportunity to make this goal a reality. For a reduction in the disability employment gap to be sustainable, and meaningful, we need to ensure disabled people are not just getting into work, but that disabled people are able to stay in work too.

Disabled people tell us how important schemes such as Access to Work are for helping them maintain employment and stay in the workplace, but there is also a significant role for employers to play. Employers need to be flexible in their approach to supporting disabled employees and must work more closely with local health and care services, local disability organisations and skills providers to find and support the right disabled people for the jobs they create. Of course, many employers are doing great work already to recruit, retain and develop disabled staff but we still have a way to go until this becomes the norm.

Investing in care services that enable people to live independently

Many disabled people rely on social care to support them to live independently, yet according to recent NHS statistics only 34% of social care users have as much choice and control as they want over their lives. As the Government moves to further integrate health and social care systems to drive efficiencies particularly in the support provided to older people, it should also consider how public services for disabled people might be integrated to support working age disabled adults to participate in their communities, study or enter employment.

Tackling the extra costs that disabled people face

Many disabled people worry about the costs of living, and have to fork out for specialised equipment higher heating bills and replacing worn-out clothes that non-disabled people don’t have to afford. These extra costs undermine disabled people’s financial security, make it hard to save or build financial resilience. Disabled people have an average of £108,000 fewer savings and assets than non-disabled people.

Some businesses are already recognising that disabled people are consumers who are under-provided for in the market, and have developed tailored products that have the potential to drive down costs. We hope that many others will follow suit, and would like to see the Government intervening to encourage businesses to innovate.

Improving opportunity for disabled people is about social justice – and we are delighted that the Prime Minister recognises the important role government can play here. It’s also about creating a country equipped for 21st century challenges. Scope economic research has found that increasing disability employment will add billions to GDP by 2030. The Government has an opportunity to improve the lives of disabled people, make her social justice agenda a reality and boost the UK economy at the same time. We hope she takes it.

Anna Bird is Director of Policy and Research at Scope



The gender pay gap – trimming branches or tackling at root?

Theresa May stood outside Downing Street in July and listed a series of “burning injustice(s)” she pledged her Government would fight. The listed included the fact that “if you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man.” 

Less than six weeks later the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ report into the gender wage gap has underlined the challenge our new Prime Minister faces.  On average women in paid work receive about 18% less per hour than men.

It shows the key reason is more women than men work part-time or flexibly – because they are disproportionately responsible for unpaid caring and need to combine their responsibilities at work and home.  This needs to be addressed.  But I’ll get to that.

These part-time options are less well paid with fewer opportunities for career progression than full-time work.  Only 8.7% of quality job vacancies (those that pay over £20,000 full time equivalent or more) are advertised as being open to some kind of flexibility – compared with 20.2% among lower paid jobs. 

So women often find themselves trapped in low paid work where they are unable to progress.  They stay because they are afraid that they won’t find working arrangements that suit their childcare pattern elsewhere.  These fears aren’t unfounded - quality part-time and flexible jobs are few and far between.  So the gender pay gap persists.

Often the twin challenge of finding affordable, available childcare (which couples tend to assume should be deducted from women’s salaries) and reasonably well-paid, part-time and flexible employment is insurmountable – and women leave employment.  Clearly when they return they will have missed out on any interim wage growth and opportunities to upskill – so the gender pay gap persists.

Childcare can be a deciding factor in terms of women continuing in employment after children are born.  But addressing this is only part of the picture.  Key is ensuring more quality part-time and flexible jobs – jobs with career and wage progression – in the UK labour market.  As well as reporting on pay we’d like to see employers reporting on the steps they have taken to embed flexible working in their organisations, including whether or not they have taken a ‘flexible by default’ approach to recruitment.  This would open up choice for women - and men - helping tackle that persistent gender pay gap. 

But what about women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid caring?  While women’s choices are more limited the gender pay gap will surely remain.  The barriers to using shared parental leave – encouraging fathers to share care early on - must be tackled to make it a realistic option for new parents.  We disagree it should be extended to other groups like grandparents – before it starts working for fathers. 

If Theresa May is serious about achieving parental choice around shared care and reducing the gender pay gap, she might consider bringing in three months non-transferable paid leave for fathers.  Ideally this would be supported by the introduction of a free childcare hours allowance for children aged under two – to help bridge the gap between the end of maternity and parental leave in the first year of life and children starting school.  These kinds of game-changing policies would get to the root of the gender pay gap - helping eliminate it for good – and unlock the talent of women for the benefit of employers and the economy in post-Brexit Britain.

Sarah Jackson is CEO of Working Families - the UK’s leading work-life balance charity.  October 3-7 is National Work Life Week – find more information here.