Disabled members’ conference hears call for workplace advocates

UNISON reps have the skills to “act as advocates” for disabled members in workplace assessments who “need support and assistance,” said Nicky Sutton from the national young members’ forum.

She was calling for workplace assessment consultations to include the option for disabled workers to be accompanied by a trade union rep.

It wasn’t just an issue for young people, said Cymru/Wales’s Anthea Wellington.

She reminded delegates that, with as the retirement age increasing to 68 or beyond, we’ll have “carers needing care, nurses needing healthcare and housing workers needing sheltered housing.”

Dan Thompson of West Mercia Police remembered trying to undertake a workplace assessment without the support of his union, thinking that the adjustments proposed would be alright but then starting work and finding the “system didn’t work” and it was perceived as “my fault”.

Members also called on the union to campaign around Access to Work funding for disabled apprentices and volunteers.

As Kath McGuinness from Newcastle city council said, “without the resources provided by Access to Work, disabled people face barriers which exclude them from taking part in society.”

Conference rejected “without qualification” the revised work capability assessment: the government’s drive to deny people who are sick or disabled the financial support they need because they cannot secure paid work.

“Don’t punish people for being unable to sell their labour,” said one delegate.

Nicky Sutton revealed the shocking statistic 42% of young disabled members said their training opportunities had got worse over the past year compared to 30% of non-disabled members.

“What accounts for that difference?” asked Ms Sutton, and urged UNISON to find out and take action.

Supporting Ms Sutton, Fiona Heneghan of Surrey county council asked delegates to go to their HR departments and ask “How many young disabled people is this organisation supporting?”

The union also reaffirmed its position to support the social model of disability “as the appropriate interpretation of the cause of exclusion, discrimination and barriers that prevent equal participation of disabled people in society.”

UNISON disabled members