Disability, Unemployment and Token Gestures
Regardless of the fact that employment levels are up, there will be many people reading this article who understand the struggles faced when seeking employment. There will also be many reading this article who are currently unemployed and there will be those who have bravely stepped into the world of self- employment, in a desperate yet hope filled attempt at self-preservation.
It will not surprise you to discover, as if you needed to, that the Southwest has one of the largest ranks of self-employed people in the country. Indeed the Isles of Scilly and West Somerset were two of the top three local authorities with the most self-employed residents, according to a census gathered in 2011. If a census were produced per town, I imagine Bude and other rural locations would be near the top. It would appear however, that the rest of the county are joining and staying in the ranks of the self-employed. 15% of the UK’s population are now self- employed, with just 886,000 people opting to change that status in the period between 2009 and 2014, compared with 1.3million in the period between 2004 and 2009.
The Maverick Masses
In October 2014 I joined the maverick masses of the self-employed, striving for a stability, so surely generated by taking control of my own destiny. No longer would I face the threat of redundancy or battle its debilitating impact. No longer would I threat about the longevity of my job prospects, given my constant battle against discrimination and the fear that my physical capabilities may diminish. Despite currently working more hours for less money, than my previous job, the only person who can define whether I am a success or not is me.
However, if I look at the reasons for starting my business, self- preservation ranks highly. After being made redundant from my lecturing role, I battled once again with the obstacles and barriers faced when searching for employment. One of these obstacles is that, on average 30-50 people apply for every job vacancy. Another obstacle is the location in which we live, exacerbated by a lack of incentive for bigger companies to form a presence locally, something which is hopefully now beginning to change.
Thirdly and most alarmingly from the perspective of a disabled person, is the huge disparity between the number of disabled people in employment when compared to the able bodied counterparts. Imagine in you will, having the desire and ability to work but being denied the opportunity by blatant discrimination, which I will add is against the law.
I have the facts and regrettably first-hand experiences to support my strong statements. Facts and experiences I put forward to former North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson. Here is an extract from my correspondence to Dan
“I simply wanted to state that people with disabilities have to submit 50% more job applications to receive an interview. There is a disparity of about 2 million people, between the number of able bodied voters in employment when compared to their disabled counterparts.”
“These figures still exist, despite studies showing that disabled people are more loyal to their employers and take fewer days off than their able bodied equals. Government schemes such as Access to Work even help to pay for any reasonable adjustments required for a disabled person to be successfully employed.”
I then went on to ask Dan if he seriously believed that the term equal opportunities employer meant exactly that, or whether he believed, as I do, that it is simply a banner behind which companies can hide.
I have sat interviews and got jobs only when I have excluded my disability from the application form. Why, because, employers can judge me on my abilities alone when they have no preconceived ideas about my disability. Time and again I have been adequately and at times over qualified for job roles, only to be overlooked because of my perceived limitations. Now, whilst I accept that everyone gets overlooked and at times ignored when applying for jobs, I will again reiterate that when I have omitted my disability from the application I have got the job. I have also had a manager bite and flick their nails whilst I was giving an interview because he believed that my disability inhibited my ability to fulfil the role. Yet this employer like many others is ‘seemingly’ a ‘self- proclaimed’ equal opportunities employer.
As a result of this correspondence, Dan Rogerson forwarded my concerns onto former minister for the disabled, Mark Harper. His response was disappointingly inept, merely a token gesture which received swift rebuke from Dan and left me with a distinct sense of frustration.
You see Mark felt the need to reassure me that my disability did indeed fall under the equality act of 2010, which he informs me guards against such discrimination. He went on to say that reasonable adjustments must be made to recruitment procedures, such that anyone who is “otherwise capable” can successfully apply for the position. Mark states that companies displaying the two ticks’ symbol offer guaranteed interviews to those with disabilities. I am sad to say that this is also a myth and simply another banner for companies can hide behind.
Now whilst it is true that those who feel discriminated against can complain to that rarest of creatures, a job centre disability advisor or to the Government Equalities office, proving discrimination is almost impossible. It is also true that there was an increase of 141,000 disabled people in employment at the end of 2014. However, it is also true that it is hard to find work and harder still if you have a disability. As proven by the fact that over half of the current disabled working age population are unemployed as opposed to 20.6% of able bodied people. I hesitate to say that ploughing 15million into the Access to work scheme since 2012 is a token gesture, I would however, suggest that more needs to be done, irrespective of what this government plans for the future.
According to Dan the Lib Dems wanted to ‘encourage’ employers to shortlist suitable disabled candidates and provide advice on work place adaptions. Dan is right, in that not enough disabled people, let alone their potential employers know about the access to work scheme. It is pointless ploughing money into a scheme if people aren’t sure whether they can access it or indeed benefit from it. It would be like me throwing 15million at expanding Devilishly Disabled without marketing it. If anyone wishes to give me 15million with which to try though, I would gracefully accept.
As for the solution to the evident discrimination that exists within the current job market, well disabled people are not silly so, let’s be honest, there are jobs roles I can’t fulfil, in which case I wouldn’t apply for them or be upset that I wasn’t considered for them, as such the solution is simple. Let’s remove the equal opportunities employer banner, remove the box that says ‘do you consider yourself disabled’ and give everyone a chance to shine based on their abilities, rather than diminish due to a perception of their disabilities.
Whilst I wait for my recommendations to once again be ignored, I will give the last word to Dan. “I find it worrying that the minister of state for disabled people can be this out of touch with the reality that those with disabilities face. It is often incredibly difficult to prove discrimination in all but the most blatant of cases”.