Targeting change in employment practice
Last week, ENABLE Scotland submitted its response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on Increasing the Employment of Disabled People in the Public Sector.
The public sector as a whole is the largest employer in Scotland, with 20% of all jobs – so this consultation is very welcome and, in itself, demonstrates the different approach being taken by Holyrood to ‘halving the disability gap’ to Westminster.
Having spoken with people we support in ENABLE Works, our members, our frontline Employment Co-ordinators and managers – ENABLE Scotland’s response is, perhaps unsurprisingly, that we believe there SHOULD be a target set for the public sector to recruit disabled people.
It’s complicated though…
Quota systems are commonplace in most European countries – having been introduced after the Second World War as a result of the difficulties for disabled servicemen from the First World War to find jobs when they got home.
These policies have been extensively reviewed and there is no evidence that these quota systems have a positive impact on the employment of disabled people. The UK abandoned its quota system in the 1990s, which had failed for the same reasons quotas are ineffective across Europe.
The policy was ineffectively enforced, ineffectively communicated and had loopholes which were exploited by employers who obtained exemption from the process through spurious reasoning.
The policy was also widely criticised by disabled people as being too close to the medical model of disability, with people being required to register with the Department of Employment in order to qualify.
Since the 1990s however, the UK has relied on employment discrimination policy to enforce disabled workers rights – the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 and now the Equality Act in 2010. Arguably, these policies have also been ineffective in driving a change – simply safeguarding people’s rights rather than acting as a positive influencer.
Does this mean targets are wholly bad then? I don’t think so – they’ve just been badly managed, and we’d be daft to think that the significant ambition that is halving the disability employment gap doesn’t require a bit of radical thinking.
So, how could we do radical recruitment targets?
1. Setting Reasonable Expectations
ENABLE Scotland’s preference is for setting one overall incremental public sector employment target that would be reviewed and revised in fixed stages.
In setting a clear expectation of all public sector bodies, the Scottish Government would send a message that this is a policy objective being taken seriously.
All public bodies are equally accountable and should not be exempt or allowed to set their own targets – this would lead to loopholes and opt-outs like the previous failed UK policy.
However, to avoid creating a ‘box ticking exercise’, it makes sense to set an incremental target that can be reviewed and revised, allowing a reasonable level of flexibility which places the emphasis on genuinely achieving positive change.
2. Build A Culture Of Inclusion
In order to achieve the overall target, we would like to see new standards and targets within recruitment and HR processes in public sector bodies.
Anyone working in employment support will tell you that the public sector is the hardest sector to work with. This can be down to overly concerned policies limiting work experience, bureaucratic processes prolonging and limiting external recruitment, and essential skills criteria based on attainment at school that doesn’t really reflect the role being recruited for.
We’d like to see this reviewed wholesale – with consideration given to training HR staff and managers, supporting a culture of disclosure, developing recruitment networks locally, improving access to support networks and re-imagining the way people apply for jobs online and are interviewed.
Scotland has a great diversity of specialist employment and support organisations whose missions are to create societal inclusion – the public sector should make best use of them.
3. Keep Communicating Change
We would welcome the publication of the action plan for each public sector body to achieve the target set and transparent reporting of their employment and retention of people who have disabilities within their workforce.
This transparency should encourage action to achieve the target and demonstrates their commitment to the target – and willingness to be judged on how far they have achieved it.
As part of this, it is very important that published data records and reports which specific disability has been declared. This will allow for a deeper analysis of progress in closing the disability employment gap, including whether there are specific challenges for certain types of disability (such as learning disability). This level of detail may come to suggest a case for setting specific targets for different disabilities.
Similarly, it is important that no perverse incentives are inadvertently created for employers to over-report mild health conditions in order to falsely appear to be closing the disability employment gap or meeting a potential disability employment target.
The definition of disability used by the Scottish Government is that set out in the Equality Act 2010, however it is our understanding that local authorities use the definition set out in the 2011 Census, and that other employers may use different definitions again.
A consistent methodology should be adopted – as part of a wider approach to disclosure – so disabled people’s needs can be expressed accurately and without fear of perceived recrimination.
The consultation has now closed and the decision on what the Scottish Government ultimately decides to do is expected to be in winter, with the publication of the long-awaited disability employment gap action plan.
Whatever is decided, just having this discussion shows we are thinking differently about an issue we’ve made no progress on in decades.