The government’s strategy has had a mixed response – but employers need to be aware of the changes afoot, says Lorna Gemmell, Employment Law & HR Training Manager at WorkNest.
The National Disability Strategy, which was promised in the Conservative Party manifesto back in 2019, was published in July 2021. It purportedly incorporates all aspects of a disabled person’s life and therefore includes proposals which are relevant to the employment relationship. The foreword was prepared in conjunction with disabled people, their families and carers and disability charities and agencies. There was also a UK disability survey which received 14,000 responses.
The strategy has had a mixed response. Some view aspects of it as non-committal in the sense that various further consultations and pilots are proposed before firm action will be taken. This has led to concern about how long it will be before change actually happens. That said, it is important for employers to be aware of what has commenced and what is in the pipeline.
The key proposals relevant to the employer and employee relationship are as follows:
The introduction of a new ACAS advice hub and guidance for employers – the hub went live at the end of July and contains straightforward and accessible information for disabled employees on their rights at work. The government also indicated that it would look to prepare new guidance for employers on how to support disabled employees at work – tailored, in particular, to small and medium-sized employers.
Improving the Access to Work scheme and introducing “adjustment passports” – Access to Work supports disabled people in gaining and staying in employment, for example, by providing grants to help with transport to work. The strategy confirmed that the government would make the scheme a digital service and take action to raise awareness of it. Access to Work adjustment passports will be piloted to remove the need for repeated assessments when someone moves jobs.
A consultation on workplace reporting – the consultation was launched in December and concerns reporting on the number/proportion of disabled people in the workforce and whether such a scheme should be voluntary or mandatory. The consultation closes on 25 March and the response will be published by 17 June. It is proposed that any new rules will apply to employers with 250 or more employees so it would be sensible for employers in this category to review their data collection practices regarding employees’ disabilities.
A consultation on flexible working as the default – in September, the government launched a consultation on making flexible working the default unless the employer has good reason not to allow it. The consultation closed on 1 December and the response has yet to be published. The main proposal contained in the consultation is to make the right to request flexible working a “day one” right. Many have been underwhelmed by the government’s proposals and have suggested that they don’t satisfy the government’s “flexible working by default” strapline.
One week’s unpaid carers’ leave – the government said in the strategy that it would set out the next steps for implementing the right to one week’s unpaid leave per year for unpaid carers to allow them to better balance their work and caring responsibilities. The government published its response to the consultation in September with details of what this new right will entail. There has been disappointment that the leave will be unpaid on the basis that it is likely to make it prohibitive for some resulting in the use of annual leave instead.
Improving existing support schemes for disabled people and employers – this includes, for example, earlier and more intensive Job Centre support, and a review of the Disability Confident scheme.
More support for disabled entrepreneurs – the government will publish proposals with a view to ensuring that every disabled person who wants to start a business will have that opportunity.
Improving access for disabled people to jobs in the Civil Service, defence and national security agencies – the Civil Service will take steps to ensure that disabled employees can thrive. This will include maintaining the highest level of Disability Confident accreditation and focussing on improving the experience of disabled people in relation to reasonable adjustments and flexible working. MI6 will strive to ensure that, by 2025, 9% of its workforce will identify as disabled both overall and at each grade. The Ministry of Defence will also, by 2023, consider how disabled people can play a greater role in the armed forces.
Support for disabled apprentices – the Department of Education has committed to various steps to improve this support.
Lorna Gemmell is Employment Law & HR Training Manager at WorkNest, a powerhouse of Employment Law, HR and Health & Safety support services, weaving pragmatic advice with powerful technology platforms.