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Disability Action Plan should offer more workplace support, say specialists

Increased funding for Access to Work would help make work more inclusive, a consultant said

The government published its Disability Action Plan on Monday (5 February), which laid out how the government intends to improve the lives of disabled people in the UK.

The plan included improving access for disabled people in elected office, improving representation and introducing a 'disability enabled' badge, to signpost businesses that train their staff in disability awareness.

The plan also stated that further actions to provide employment and workplace support for disabled people will be taken forward in the National Disability Strategy, and in relevant government departments.

It also committed to further consultation into the impact of climate change strategy on disabled people, including how the new clean air and low emission zones have affected how they travel to work, hospital and school, as well as employment opportunities for disabled people in green industries.

Read more: National Disability Strategy fails to have desired impact

But specialists in disability inclusion have said the plan does not do enough to include disabled people in the workplace.

Joanna Hurry, a disability, equality and diversity consultant, commended the steps the proposal would take to improve the lives of disabled people, but said that it could have gone further to provide workplace support.

She told HR magazine that the Action Plan could have helped employers make their workplace more inclusive by investing in the Access to Work scheme, which supplies grants for people with a disability, neurodiversity or mental health condition to pay for equipment, travel costs or practical help at work.

She said: “Access to Work can support more employers establish procedures for providing reasonable accommodations, ensuring access to assistive technologies, and offering flexible work arrangements and support services.”

She noted that the scheme is the main vehicle for supporting disabled workers in the UK but is often under-utilised.

Read more: Access to Work will be digitalised from April 2024

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, added that the Action Plan missed an opportunity to reform Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to allow people to make a phased return to work.

She said: “The current all-or-nothing approach to SSP means that employees often feel forced to return to full hours before they are ready, which can then lead to further periods of sickness.”

For Ola Kolade, employment and skills director at Business in the Community, employers have a responsibility to remove barriers in recruiting and retaining disabled people in the workplace, independent of government guidelines.

Speaking to HR magazine, Kolade said: “It is crucial that recruitment processes and workplaces are accessible to all so that vital talent does not go overlooked.

“Employers should listen to their disabled employees and make the necessary adjustments, such as physical adaptations to the workplace, additional support, or changes to working patterns, that will help disabled employees feel valued and supported at work.”