Ronnie Cowan MP
I shall do my best to summarise what we have heard this afternoon, and many confident and concerted voices from different political parties have described where we have been getting things wrong, and where we get them right. I thank you, Mr Rosindell, for the opportunity to speak, and the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) for securing this debate.
The hon. Gentleman identified progress that has been made since the 1970s. Attitudes have changed dramatically. He said that the Government must provide opportunities to get people back into work. He highlighted that 80% of adults without a disability are in work, but that only 49% of those with a disability who are able to work are in work. That figure drops dramatically to 36% in Northern Ireland and 42% in Scotland. He also talked about encouraging employers to sign up to the Disability Confident scheme. We would all echo that sentiment.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) reiterated the need to have debates such as this in the main Chamber. Like her, I have hosted disability conferences and events in my constituency, and I urge all Members to follow suit. She highlighted the fact that to close the current employment gap would take 50 years at its current rate, which is simply not acceptable. She also raised the importance of apprenticeships and helping people with disabilities to start their own businesses, and mentioned the facility for disabled internships here in Westminster.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) zeroed in on the practicalities of employing people with disabilities, including autism, and said that the lack of personalisation in the process only compounds the difficulties and knocks the applicant’s confidence. The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) identified some big employers as being engaged, but believes that most small and medium-sized enterprises are not as capable, or perhaps less well informed, when it comes to taking up such opportunities. He highlighted how to run a reverse jobs fair—an event I have also organised in my constituency. Such events are precious because they allow employers and employees to network with each other over the course of one working day, which can prove invaluable.
The hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) spoke about the benefit to the workplace of a diverse team and the value that that can bring. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) emphasised that this issue is perhaps more about employers than employees, and the benefits and fundamental decency of the Disability Confident scheme. The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) spoke about removing barriers, including employer uncertainty. That links back to my earlier point about networking events and introducing employers that have successfully employed people with a disability with those that are hesitant and need help to bridge the gap. That confidence gap can be bridged by such events.
The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) spoke about how changing attitudes and cultures is crucial. The importance of the Access to Work scheme was re-emphasised, and that should be echoed by us all. The hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) said that she has visited a number of local employers that have signed up to the scheme and are already reaping its benefits. She asked the Minister to work across Departments to improve all aspects of the recruitment and retention process.
Only about 49% of working-age disabled adults are in employment compared with 80% of those with no disability. Although many disabled adults make important contributions to the economy, others face barriers to employment. Breaking down those barriers and creating inclusive workplaces is good not only for individuals who are able to get into work, but for the whole country. Disabled people have the same ambitions, aspirations and work ethic as others, but they are under-represented across a broad range of industries. We should maximise the skills and talent of everyone who can contribute to our economy.
Employers should be aware that support is available to them to help to remove the barriers that prevent disabled people from utilising their talents. I strongly encourage all employers to seek out such support. Hiring disabled people is not just a moral issue; it makes good business sense. Research highlighted by a previous Minister for Disabled People, the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), showed that 92% of consumers think more favourably of businesses that hire people with disabilities, and that 87% of people would prefer to give their custom to companies that recruit disabled people.
In the past, we have seen how misconceptions have prevented disabled people from taking up employment opportunities. We must challenge those misconceptions. The Scottish Government have a number of programmes to help disabled people as they seek employment, including the targeted employment recruitment incentive, which is helping young people who are disabled or who have additional support needs. The Disability Confident campaign will complement that work, but we should be clear that, although much has already been done, there is still much more to do.