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Disabled choosing self-employment for better working conditions


?More disabled people are choosing self-employment but are being let down by poor support from the government, according to new research from IPSE

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE ) study, Making self-employment work for disabled people, found that 611,000 people with disabilities in the UK now work for themselves in their main job.

The report found that one in seven (14%) of the self-employed UK workforce are disabled, up by 30% in five years. The research emphasised that disabled people actively choose self-employment, with only 12% feeling they were ‘pushed’ into it by a lack of opportunities or redundancy.

But IPSE found that the most common reason for choosing self-employment was to benefit from better work conditions, as confirmed by 20% of freelancers with disabilities.

Disabled self-employed people are struggling not only with difficulties accessing benefits through the Work Capability Assessment, but also with widespread poor understanding of self-employment, according to the report. Freelancers with disabilities share many of the same problems as the wider self-employed sector, such as government confusion about employment status and a lack of clarity about regulations, said IPSE.

There is also the problem of late payment, which the report argued the government should tackle by giving increased powers to the Small Business Commissioner.

Beyond these, however, disabled individuals also face specific challenges. IPSE’s report issued a number of disability-specific recommendations for the government and support organisations, including re-designing the Work Capability Assessments, better publicity for the Access to Work programme, and supporting organisations such as charities, trade associations and trade unions to help disabled people access mentoring and tailored support.

Jonathan Lima-Matthews, public affairs manager and special adviser at IPSE, reiterated that disabled people are being let down by a lack of support: “Working for themselves is an overwhelmingly positive choice for disabled people. They can enjoy the freedom to work when, where and crucially how they want – something many told us they couldn’t do in permanent employment.

“The government says it wants to help people get into work, but ministers are letting disabled people down by failing to support them to be their own boss. It’s time for it to turn this around and give disabled people striking out for themselves the support they need.”

But Janina Vallance, executive director of people and change at Scope, added that employers also have an important role to play in supporting people with disabilities, so that they are able to take up traditional employment if this is their preferred option. “We’d like to see more employers be upfront about the reasonable adjustments and flexible working practices they offer," she told HR magazine.

"There are a million disabled people who want to work and a change in our employment culture can make a big difference to tapping this huge pool of talent. We know that employers who recognise disabled people’s talent in the workplace will thrive."

She added: “Reasonable adjustments can make a huge difference to the experience disabled people have at work. Nearly half of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer. It’s crucial that businesses create more inclusive workplaces with accessible recruitment practices in place so that disabled people can feel more confident asking for reasonable adjustments."

John Paul McHugh, assistant general secretary at trade union Community, said that organisations and charities should work with the government to improve life for self-employed people with disabilities. The growth in the number of disabled people becoming self-employed shows no signs of slowing. It’s no surprise [the IPSE] report found a majority had a positive view of self-employment and intended to stay in it for the long term,” he said.

“However, it’s clear not enough is being done by the government to help disabled people to make a success of this way of working. Partnering with like-minded organisations and charities we believe we can create a better working world for disabled people through self-employment, but that also needs the right focus and policies from government. This report sets out the steps that should be taken.”