The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, came under fire from disability campaigners and the media for his claims that disabled workers could be to blame for the UK’s sluggish productivity, and rightly so.
Whether he was ill-informed or just spoke without thinking things through, he has caused offence to many people and also triggered concerns that someone in such a senior Government post could be so wide of the mark. It is appropriate therefore to remind anyone who is in any doubt of the huge and valuable contribution which disabled people make to the economy.
The Chancellor was quoted in the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Mail and the Mirror. His comments were broadcast by the BBC and by Sky News, published by the New Statesman, the Huffington Post and various charities and lobby groups.
He said: “It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”
A director of Scope asked him to withdraw the “totally unacceptable and derogatory” remarks which “fundamentally undermine the Government’s policy to get more disabled people into work.” As far as we’re aware he hasn’t retracted anything yet.
We can’t help but remind him that this type of comment is an obstacle to helping disabled people find work, as some employers may use it as an excuse and others may be encouraged to overlook the benefits that disabled people can bring to a business.
Just think of the wheelchair user, who can sit at a desk just like anyone else. We have just delivered training to a company about how to undertake access audits, including discussion about the legislation around employment. A senior member of staff suggested it might not be possible to employ disabled people in their business because of the nature of the work, but other delegates pointed out that a wheelchair user can still carry out staff appraisals and can visit potential or existing clients.
It is also important to remember that most disabled people acquire their impairment during the course of their life, whether through illness, accident or just a part of aging. That means any business could employ a disabled person in the future who is an existing member of staff.
Technology companies are recognising that some people with autism can bring vast amounts of skill to developing software. Renowned chef Michael Caines has one arm. The BBC have had a reporter who is vision-impaired and Frank Gardner still works as the BBC’s security correspondent from his wheelchair. They are all disabled people, and all doing a great, productive job.
29 December 2017