Business Disability Forum is one of the founding signatories for a new Disability Employment Charter which seeks to set out key steps to achieve and build on the commitments set out in the Government’s National Disability Strategy, launched in July 2021.
The Charter sets out nine calls to action for Government to take, which in brief are:
- Employment and pay gap reporting
- Supporting disabled people into employment
- Reform of Access to Work (AtW)
- Reform of Disability Confident
- Leveraging government procurement
- Workplace adjustments
- Working with disabled people and their representatives
- Advice and support
- National progress on disability employment
You can see the full charter here.
The Charter group is now seeking signatories from employers to demonstrate a commitment to Government for business to play its part in effecting the changes we need to see.
While not perfect, Business Disability Forum has signed up to the Charter as we are broadly in agreement with its asks and because we also believe that we need a joined up and concerted effort to realise and go beyond the aspirations of the National Disability Strategy if we are to halve and ultimately close the Disability Employment Gap. That gap has not shifted in any truly meaningful way since records began and so there is an argument that more radical action is needed.
I would be very pleased if BDF Members and Partners felt able to sign up to the Charter, but I do understand that some of the asks are complex and perhaps contentious. I am therefore setting out some explanatory and contextual points for those.
Employment and pay gap reporting
The Charter is calling for the Government to require all employers with 250+ employers to publish data annually on the number of disabled people they employ AND their disability pay gap with the percentage of disabled employees per pay quartile. As you will know, Government is currently consulting on the first part of this – the workforce reporting – but not the pay gap angle. However, as part of BDF’s consultation on this proposal and as part of our engagement with Members and Partners, we are also asking for your views on pay gap reporting and what would be needed to make this work effectively. We know that workforce reporting is a complex topic and pay gap reporting even more so. We would very much welcome your views on this, either direct to me or via our data working group (whose March meeting is specifically about pay gap reporting). If and when either aspect of these proposals are enacted by Government, we will of course work will all our Members and Partners to support you to meet any new reporting requirements.
Reform of Access to Work
Much of this ask is very closely aligned to our own policy asks and the views that our Members and Partners have fed in through numerous consultations, including removing the AtW support cap, improving the process of application and renewal and providing “in principle” awards to disabled job seekers. The ask also refers to passporting of awards between organisations and indeed Government has started some “passport” schemes as part of the National Disability Strategy. However, it is important to note that section 60 of the Equality Act forbids asking disability or health related questions before job offer so we know there are concerns about how this should work in practice lawfully. As always, if the recommendation is adopted by Government, we will engage with our Members and Partners and with Government to drill down into what would be needed to make this work in practice.
Reform of Disability Confident
We have fed into the recent review of Disability Confident and a response from Government is expected in Spring 2022. The Charter is calling for the Disability Confident scheme to be strengthened by requiring those at level 2 or 3 to meet minimum thresholds regarding the percentage of disabled people in their workforce. What those thresholds should be has not been suggested or specified and they are not currently in Government plans. If they were to be adopted, we would consult with our Members and Partners on what those thresholds should be. This ask also seeks to remove accreditation from those who do not move up from level 1 (Committed) within three years. To achieve this aim, Business Disability Forum thinks that it is very important that support is provided to businesses to progress through the scheme. We as part of the Disability Charities Consortium have been in discussion with Government and the Disability Confident Business Leaders’ Group to create a Disability Confident information portal to deliver this, which we will continue to press for (and which is the subject of ask 8 under the Charter).
The Charter is calling for government to require employers to notify employees on decision regarding reasonable adjustment requests within two weeks. We as BDF think that the ask should be “as soon as possible, but two weeks at the most” – two weeks should be the minimum standard. We recognise that many of our Members and Partners already far exceed this standard; sadly, many other organisations do not. This ask further asks for flexible working to be the default from day one; the government recently consulted on this, but while the announcement in the National Disability Strategy was of a consultation on ‘a right to flexible working by default’, the proposal under consideration is actually a Day One right to request flexible working. While this is a move in the right direction, it still excludes those who may need to know about flexibility at an earlier stage. This proposal for flexible working as a default would shift the onus onto employers to demonstrate that working differently was not possible, rather than requiring the employee to show that it is.
Working with disabled people and their representatives
There is a reference in this ask to trade unions but for clarity, working with trade unions is NOT required. This ask could easily be met by effective working with disabled employee resource groups, which of course many of our Members and Partners do already.
If you have any questions or comments about the Disability Employment Charter or if you would like to become a signatory, please do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org