Making the UK fairer: How the government can transform to empower disabled people

October 18, 2019

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By Dr Ruth Owen OBE Chief Executive, Whizz-Kidz

“I don’t feel heard as a disabled person or a parent of a disabled child”. It came as no surprise to see a comment such as this from a member of the public in PwC’s Making the UK Fairer report. It’s the kind of statement we hear every day through our work at Whizz-Kidz. Whether it’s a parent struggling to get the right wheelchair for their child or a young person that can’t find a job, young disabled people and their families often feel as though they aren’t listened to. As a disabled person myself, I know all too well that it is impossible to feel fairly treated when you are denied a voice. Therefore if we are serious about creating public policy that closes the “fairness gap” in the UK, we must address the needs of disabled people and their families.

Far more needs to be done to ensure disabled people can earn a decent living. The disability employment gap currently stands at 29.9% and has barely changed in the past 10 years. Tackling this is as much about addressing attitudes as it is about making workplaces accessible. I still hear stories today of disabled people facing job interviews that focus more on their impairment than their skill set. There also needs to be an increase in accessible work placement programmes. Young disabled people do not have the same opportunities to gain work experience as their non-disabled peers, putting them at an automatic disadvantage when they start job hunting.

But closing the fairness gap also means ensuring disabled people who can’t work are properly cared for as well.  One of the report’s top five priorities for fairness was that “people with illnesses or disabilities are supported to lead full lives”. This is something that many services are currently failing to do. For example, there is currently a £434 million gap in social care for disabled children, putting a huge strain on thousands of families. PwC and Opinium’s qualitative research uncovered strong views about the importance of helping people who are the most vulnerable. This suggests that there is a public desire to see a fairer UK that supports those with the most profound needs to lead their everyday lives.

However, any services created to meet these needs must be built in collaboration with disabled people themselves. We should rethink the one size fits all model of universal services and give people more opportunity to shape provision to best suit them. An example of this more personalised approach can be found in NHS England’s Personal Wheelchair Budgets (PWBs). These give wheelchair users far greater choice and control over their care, granting them better access to mobility equipment that meets both their clinical and social needs. Here a person’s voice is key, with disabled people not only coming away with a better wheelchair but also feeling like they’ve been listened to. It’s bold policy like this, that addresses people’s fundamental needs while empowering them and giving them a voice, that are essential if we are to make the UK a fairer place.

Notes 

At PwC, one of the UK’s leading employers we are committed to improving diversity in the workplace. Bringing people together who think differently and have had different life experiences encourages diversity of thought and can lead to innovations - our diverse workforce makes us a better firm. 

There’s a gap of almost 30% between people with disabilities who are in employment in the UK compared to people without disabilities. The biggest obstacle for those who want to work is accessing the right level of support. To address this, we’ve committed to becoming a Disability Confident Employer, which means not only recruiting from the widest talent pool possible, but leading by example in changing attitudes towards disability.

 

By Dr Ruth Owen OBE Chief Executive, Whizz-Kidz