In Britain, there are 7,868,300 working age individuals in this country who have a disability, as defined by the Equalities Act, or have a work-limiting disability.  Of those who have a disability, just under half a million are unemployed, and over 3.5 million are economically inactive.

As a sector, we are going to play a critical role in meeting the Government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap. Social Market Foundation’s recent report Closing the Gap rightly identifies that halving the disability gap will require tripling employment rate growth for disabled people.  For this to happen, we need to create real solutions on enabling a million more disabled people to successfully move into work. However, in order to halve the disability employment gap, we need to reframe our shared understanding of who can, and who should, the Government prioritise in employment support services.

I think, we need to move beyond mandating participation for those claiming out of work benefits. Current solutions to moving more people into work centre on reforming support available for Employment Support Allowance recipients. However, as of May 2015 there were 374,060 individuals claiming ESA WRAG, and we need to expand beyond this narrow focus. We need to develop solutions that enable all disabled people to lead independent lives and reach their full potential.

In order to halve the disability employment gap, I propose government and providers refocus priority in the upcoming Work and Health Programme.

As of the most recent statistics (up to September 2015) there are 3,562,300 working aged disabled people who are economically inactive. However, importantly, of the total population who economically inactive, only 2 million are due to long term health and disability.

That means there are over 1.5 million working age disabled people who are economically inactive for reasons beyond being disabled.  That’s 1.5 million working age disabled people whose health and disability are not the reasons they are unable to find work.

This cohort wants to work. A considerably higher percentage of economically inactive disabled people want to work then their non-disabled peers. 16% of men and 14% of women who are disabled and economically inactive want to work, compared to 3% of men and 5% of women who do not have a disability. 

Image via Joseph Roundtree Foundation, December 2015,

Nearly half, 45.3% of working age disabled people are economically inactive, compared to 10.8% of non-disabled people. This number is incredibly high. I don’t think increasing conditionality for those claiming unemployment benefits, including ESA WRAG will not move a million disabled people into work.

What policy makers can do, however, is reframe the conversation to include the million and a half disabled people who are not citing health and disability as the reason they are unable to look for work. Whether economic inactivity is beyond or compounded by health and disability, this is the refocus policy makers should prioritise.

In order to halve the disability employment gap, we need to expand unemployment policy beyond increasing conditionality. With the next generation of employment support, policy makers and providers can expand current focus on unemployment claimants to consider how funding can be better used to create the systems which will successfully move those who want to work, into work.