Mike Cherry
Federation of Small Businesses

Member Article

More support needed for disabled people in workplace

Mike Cherry, National Policy chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, looks at the need to do more to enable disabled people to thrive in the workplace.

The UK labour market has problems, and they aren’t limited to high unemployment. The most recent figures show that unemployment fell by 57,000 in the last quarter. That’s nothing to write home about, but during the same period of time, the number of working age people classified as inactive (a category which includes the long term sick or disabled) rose by 87,000 to over nine million. That’s a staggering figure which the UK has been complacent about for too long. More must be done to get people traditionally shut out of the workplace back into jobs.

Small businesses for their part have long acted as the main pathway for people on the fringes of the job market to find work. Labour Force Survey data recorded between 1997 and 2011 showed that 78 percent of non participants entering work either start up their own business or work for a small business. Complementary research commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) found that 946,000 non-participants secure employment through SMEs each year.

However, with reasonable adjustments to the working environment, disabled people thrive in small businesses but companies need support from Government. It can be the difference between being able to take someone on or not. That’s why UK Government grants for businesses to make workplace adjustments for disabled people are welcome. It’s vital that small firms continue to be supported as a pathway to employment for people previously excluded from the labour markets.

But more can be done.

Policymakers should embrace and be comfortable with the fact that small firms are inherently less formal and more flexible. They should recognise this is central to their ability to create jobs. It is this flexibility that makes small businesses more prepared to offer a route back into the world of work to those who have been shut out of the labour market. Policy decisions that are tailored to disabled people’s needs could help to increase the number of disabled business people in the UK. In addition, the significance of the role small businesses play needs to be recognised as well as better supported.

Government faces the challenge to communicate better with small businesses on the support available to them when employing a disabled person. It’s one thing for support to exist, but ensuring awareness of this support amongst businesses is key. The Government has been playing a positive role though its Disability Confident campaign, showcasing some inspirational stories in social media in the run up to its Disability Employment Conference held today (18 July). Moving forward, it is essential that government continues to engage with small businesses up and down the country on this subject and effectively communicates the support or help that is on offer.

Small businesses are committed to employing people with disabilities. It is an important part of the UK remaining a dynamic flexible and inclusive labour market. It’s not just the right thing to do. It makes business sense.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Federation of Small Businesses .

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