Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which has been established by the United Nations since 1992. IDPD aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and rights.

Each year, IDPD has a different theme. The theme this year is ‘Inclusion matters’.

To mark IDPD 2015, I interviewed the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson.  

Challenges for disabled people

I began by asking the Minister what he saw as the biggest challenge facing people with disabilities, with particular focus on this theme of inclusion.This topic of employment is very important to me, as I have found it difficult to find work due to my Asperger’s syndrome.  

It is important to note that the Minister realised that helping disabled people stay in work is as important as giving them the opportunity to work. I was pleased to hear that the Government is committed to creating a million more jobs for people with disabilities.

What concerned me, however, is that at, the same time, there are roughly half a million people in the Employment and Support Allowance Work-Related Activity Group (ESA-WRAG) who will lose a significant amount of their benefit. This could make it harder for them to get into work because they may need higher expenses of equipment, clothing and transport.

An inclusive and accessible society

Following on from this, I spoke to the Minister about the IDPD theme of an inclusive and accessible society for disabled people. I wanted to know what Government policy most encompassed this ambition. 

The Minister identified the recent announcement of a real-terms increase in funding for the Government’s Access to Work scheme as the single biggest policy to enable disabled people to get into and stay in employment. This policy aims to provide businesses and people going into work with support, advice and specialist equipment. 

There are no details, as yet, as to how this scheme and its promotion will be implemented. As United Response News Correspondent, my role is to keep track of any announcements about these significant changes to Access to Work to see if they really can help further the Government’s ambition of helping one million disabled people into employment.

If there are no fundamental changes in disability employment levels then further questions will be raised, and this policy will need to be re-evaluated.

Access to employment funding for disabled people

I followed up with a question about people in the Work-Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance. Last month, the Minister sent me a written statement in reply to an earlier report of mine stating that disabled people in this group, although losing £30 per week of their benefit, would have access to a Government fund of £100 million, which would give them practical support to get a job – and keep it.

I therefore asked the Minister how these people – some of whom I know are quite desperate about this reduction to their benefit – would be able to access this alternative funding and gain this practical support.

The Minister gave the following answer:

The Minister said that the Government are currently consulting on what this support should be, but he did not identify how people, like my friends, who are very worried about losing money for job-seeking, will be able to access this replacement fund. I hope the Government will utilise the expertise of United Response during this consultation.

Making sure government policy makes the right changes

Making work more inclusive for people with disabilities is going to be a long process. Accessibility is easy for people to overlook if they don’t need it. Making work more inclusive does need a wide-ranging and coordinated approach. There may also need to be a re-think in terms of the way people apply for jobs, with the work trial becoming an alternative to the traditional job interview and more application forms available in easy read format.

We must remember that the Minister for Disabled People is a difficult post. Whoever is in the role, the holder is part of the larger Department for Work and Pensions, so there will be budgetary limitations within which they have to work. 

However, the Minister and the Government need to be aware that they have a responsibility towards disabled people, who are often vulnerable and can have more difficulty adjusting to changes than other people. Any further investment should recognise that disabled people want to be part of a more accessible and inclusive society, which includes being employed. This will take investment and adjustment, and will not be solved overnight.

David Allkins, news correspondent.