"A New Deal for sick & disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions".
What exactly does that mean? To start off with it means different things to different people depending upon their perspective.
One of my key "hot buttons" is providing the framework for disabled people to "play" as fuller part in life and society as they are able to or able to want to. This Government (and to an extent the previous New Labour administration) has based its entire strategy for dealing with everything on the mantra that work sets you free. In fact, one of the key ConDem messages was that too many sick and disabled people were "parked on benefits" by the previous administration, so we are going to enrich their lives and find them all meaningful work.
The Government started off in 1995 with the Personal Capability Assessment. We then moved onto the Work Capability Assessment from 2007 onwards. This reinforced the mantra that to be worthwhile you have to work. What it never seemed to consider was did the opportunities to work exist in the free market?
Since my accident I have never held a job for significantly longer than 2 years. During that time I have never been terminated with cause. Generally I have been "let go" although I have negotiated settlements with PwC and Cognos. Significantly, in order to achieve senior jobs I have had to hide my disability. I have never come across a company that values or wants disabled staff working for them. I'm sure they must exist but I am yet to find one.
So what is my problem? I wish I knew exactly! I can only speculate. I suffered frontal lobe damage to my brain in 1991 following a car crash. Headway, the Brain Injury Association states that executive dysfunction is common following frontal lobe brain injury and have produced a factsheet, Executive Dysfunction.
I believe the symptoms of Executive Dysfunction that occasionally affect me materially are:
These to me are all "soft skills" and reasonable adjustments can be found, but in my defence I am an accountant!
However, I'll ask the question in a slightly different way? Do you think employers will rush to employ people displaying the above forms of executive dysfunction. I accept there are some enlightened employers, or specifically one individual, which is what in part allowed me to get to be CFO of a billion dollar company in Abu Dhabi but the financial crisis of 2008 appears to have changed that. Why should employers take a chance on "damaged goods" when there is a surplus of available qualified talent in the market place.
The question I pose is, will leaving it to the free market to decide whether to employ disabled, different people, produce the kind of society we promote in public? Why would the free market actively seek to provide equality of opportunity to all?
In "The Wealth of Nations (1776)", Adam Smith proposed that when the "Invisible Hand", or the law of supply and demand, operates, people act in their own self-interest and that through this society benefits. However, crucially he caveated this by conceding that whilst individuals should be able to determine what to produce and consume, it is in our self-interest to have laws that protect consumers from being treated unfairly.
Here we come back to public opinion. Is it in the self-interest of the majority to protect disabled people and provide them with true equality of opportunity? Now do you understand why the ConDem government had to demonise disabled people and label them all benefit scroungers? We now have a free market where disabled people do not count.
This is important because the whole direction of efforts to get disabled people into jobs, let alone satisfying appropriate jobs, is based around convincing society that disabled people are worthwhile and should be given a chance. That is what the Government's Disability Confident initiative is about -
"A workforce that reflects the diverse range of customers it serves, and the community in which it is based, is good for business."
Why not force the inclusion of disabled people in the workplace, and through them being there they can demonstrate their worth? Can anybody honestly say the current strategy is working?
The Office for Disability Issues says:
- According to the Labour Force Survey, disabled people are now more likely to be employed than they were in 2002, but disabled people remain significantly less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people. In 2012, 46.3 per cent of working-age disabled people are in employment compared to 76.4 per cent of working-age non-disabled people. There is therefore a 30.1 percentage point gap between disabled and non-disabled people, representing over 2 million people. The gap has reduced by 10 percentage points over the last 14 years and has remained stable over the last two years despite the economic climate.
So it all sounds positive? Try now?
- There is a 30.1% gap between the numbers of working age disabled and non-disabled people in employment. What does that suggest to you? Substitute the word "black" for "disabled". Does it read differently now? Don't forget, these are all people that have been found fit for work so any allowance you are making in your head for these people not being as capable as their non-disabled counterparts is illegal discrimination
- Under previous Government's this gap reduced by 10% up until the year the ConDems came to power, but we've managed to stop that . In fact, we're surprised that our policies haven't managed to reverse this trend given the economic climate.
I have spoken to many people on this subject and the underlying assumption has been in every case that the free market will provide appropriate employment for disabled people. I ask everybody that has assumed that to be true where is the evidence of that? Is it in the same place as the evidence supporting the use of the biopsychosocial model of disability? Where is the self-interest for the free market to provide equality of opportunity?
If we are serious about equality of opportunity and inclusion then let's do something serious about delivering that. Why would we want to leave something as fundamental and important as this to the "free markets" who took us to the precipice in 2008?
What does a New Deal for Sick and Disabled People mean to you?