• International Workplace
  • 28 February 2017

Transforming the employment prospects of disabled people: responses to the Government’s green paper

Responses to the Government’s document, Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper, are recognising the key areas that need work in order to enable disabled people to stay in and get back to work.

Published in October 2016, the paper was intended to ‘mark the start of… a far-reaching national debate, asking: “What will it take to transform the employment prospects of disabled people and people with long-term health conditions?”’

A ministerial comment from Damian Green, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, stated that:

“A disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life – or in the workplace. However, at the moment, for many people, a period of ill health, or a condition that gets worse, can cause huge difficulties… There is a lack of practical support to help people stay connected to work and get back to work. This has to change.”

“The UK has a strong track record on disability rights and the NHS provides unparalleled support to people with poor health. We have put mental and physical health on the same footing. We have seen hundreds of thousands more disabled people in work in recent years. However, despite that progress, we are not yet a country where all disabled people and people with health conditions are given the opportunity to reach their potential.  That’s why we are committed to halving the disability employment gap and share this commitment with many others in society.  

“Change will come, not by tinkering at the margins, but through real, innovative action.”

Workplace relations and employment law specialist ACAS has published a detailed response to the green paper, which focuses on four key areas: getting disabled people into work; helping disabled people stay in work; responding in the right way when disabled people ‘fall’ out of work; and developing a strategic approach to managing the whole person.

Some of its comments on these areas are featured below:

1. Getting disabled people into work

“The Green Paper rightly places a strong focus on the best ways to recruit disabled people... ACAS evidence suggests that achieving this aim is likely to need fair and transparent recruitment processes. Our recent research on neurodiversity shows that enlightened employers often modify recruitment practices so that they accommodate the needs of neuro-diverse employees – for example, allowing applicants to fill in application forms online rather than by hand if they have problems with writing and spelling.”

2. Helping disabled stay in work

“The Green Paper highlights the importance of providing the right kind of ongoing support to help people stay in work, particularly those with mental health conditions. Our recent research suggests that the following factors are likely to contribute to sustainable work for people with disabilities: 

  • Maintaining ongoing dialogue between managers and employees, particularly in the face of organisational and external pressures.
  • Investing in shared learning experiences… Engaging those with mental health problems in finding the right solutions can be beneficial.
  • Evidence of the impact of broader wellbeing interventions are patchy and employers can be confused about what works best. ACAS evidence suggests that it might be worth revising the HSE workplace standards so that they cover the broader mental health spectrum and not just stress.”

 3. Responding in the right way when disabled people ‘fall’ out of work

 “The Green Paper helpfully identifies many of the gaps that can emerge between the different stages of a person’s journey in and out of work. In order to minimise the negative impacts associated with poor attendance, employers should prioritise the following areas:

  • Have clear and consistent policies for addressing attendance management and return to work. In the context of this Green Paper, this should include an agreement on appropriate ‘keeping in touch’ days and a clear understanding of the extent to which adjustments are available and are reasonable in the context of business needs.
  • Allowing employees to have a say in how their health is managed in the context of the workplace.”

4. Developing a strategic approach to managing the whole person as they embark on their individual journeys in and out of work.

“There may be some tension in the aims set out in the Green Paper between the principles of ‘personalised, integrated and targeted’ support for disabled people and the desire to create a ‘one stop shop’ for all workplace help and interventions. It may be worth considering the need for: 

  • ‘Workplace passports’ that help aid the conversation between the Job Centre coaches, who have such a pivotal role in government plans, and individuals.
  • Promoting wellbeing initiatives – and making the business case for interventions – arguably comes under the broader umbrella of corporate governance and responsibility. The Green Paper wants the public sector to lead the way in bridging the disability employment gap. ACAS supports the aim of employers monitoring and reviewing absence and wellbeing in their organisations. Perhaps some form of corporate level guidance on reporting on recruitment and retention figures for those with disabilities could be introduced?
  • Further research is needed. We agree with the green paper that more evidence is needed on which interventions work best so that good practice can be shared and replicated.

The full ACAS response is available here.