Next steps for our work on the Disability Employment Charter

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2023 National Disabled Members' Conference
7 July 2023

Conference is proud that UNISON is one of the founding members of the Disability Employment Charter which now has 147 organisations signed up to it, including trade unions, disabled people organisations, public service employers, charitable organisations and private sector employers.

The disability employment charter was founded because of the disadvantage that disabled people experience in the labour market and workplaces. Disabled people are less likely to be employed than non-disabled people, with the disability employment gap consistently at a rate of just below 30 percentage points. The employment rate of disabled people is 53% compared to 82% of non-disabled people. This is due to a number of factors including disability discrimination, failure to make reasonable adjustments, inaccessible workplaces and structural ableism.

Disabled employees also face a pay gap of almost 20% lower than non-disabled employees. On top of this, disabled people incur approximately £1000 disability associated costs which works out at about 63% of household income after housing costs, according to the disability charity Scope. The cost of living crisis has compounded the poverty experienced by disabled people.

The charter outlines the actions that the government needs to take to address the disadvantage disabled people encounter in their working lives asking for:

a)all employers with 250+ employees to publish data annually on the number of disabled people they employ as a proportion of their workforce; their disability pay gap; and the percentage of disabled employees within each pay quartile.

b)increase to disabled people’s access to employment programmes and apprenticeships; increase the scale, quality and awareness of supported employment programmes and supported internships; and increase the provision of tailored careers advice to disabled people.

c)Reform of Access to Work (AtW) including removal of the AtW support cap; ensuring application/renewal processes are efficient, personalised, and flexible; entitle disabled job-seekers to ‘in principle’ indicative awards; facilitate passporting of awards between organisations and from Disabled Student’s Allowance to AtW; and increase awareness of AtW support.

d)Reform of Disability Confident requiring employers at Disability Confident Levels 2 and 3 to meet minimum thresholds regarding the percentage of disabled people in their workforce; and remove accreditation from employers that do not move up within 3 years from Level 1 to Levels 2 or 3.

e)Leveraging government procurement ensuring award decisions for all public sector contracts take into account the percentage of disabled people in the workforce of tendering organisations; require government contractors to work towards a minimum threshold regarding the percentage of disabled people in their workforce; and take failure to achieve this threshold into account in future contract award decisions.

f)The government to require employers to notify employees on decisions regarding reasonable adjustment requests within two weeks; make the option to work flexibly from day one the legal default for all jobs; introduce stronger rights to paid disability leave for assessment, rehabilitation and training; and fund an increase in Statutory Sick Pay to the European average.

g)The government should require employers to consult and negotiate with disabled people and their representatives on disability equality matters; and provide trade union equality representatives and disability champions with statutory rights to time off to perform their role.

h)The government should create a ‘one stop shop’ portal to provide information, advice and guidance to employers on recruiting and retaining disabled people, and to disabled people on their employment rights.

i)The government should take into account increasing disability prevalence in calculating the disability employment gap, and use the ‘prevalence corrected’ employment gap measure in monitoring national progress on disability employment.

The charter is primarily a campaigning tool that calls on government, rather than employers, to take the kind of legislative and cross-sectoral action that is needed to radically improve the rights of disabled people in the workplace. Employers are asked to sign up to it to show that they want government to take action and to show that they disagree with the Conservative government’s usual argument that employers see stronger rights as a “burden on business” or “red tape”.

However, some disabled members have reported that their employers have agreed to the principles of the disability employment charter but are reluctant to sign up as the call is on the government to take actions. It is important that we support those branches in making the argument to their employer while also seeking other ways in which the charter can be used, including when it comes to workplace bargaining.

Some disabled members report that their branches have used the employment charter as a bargaining and negotiating tool to improve working conditions for disabled members; with employers reporting on the make-up of the workforce, reporting on disability pay gaps, increasing employment opportunities for disabled people, incorporating commitments to disability equality in procurement process and providing reasonable adjustments more quickly.

Conference calls on the National Disabled Members Committee to:

1)Continue to promote the sign up to the disability employment charter

2)Provide guidance to branches on the arguments to make when seeking employer sign ups and on how the disability employment charter can be adapted for use as a bargaining and negotiating tool to promote disability rights in the workplace

3)Collate good practice of how branches have utilised the disability employment charter to improve working conditions for disabled members