It is widely acknowledged that the employment opportunities on offer in London are unmatched by any other major city in the UK.
Yet for disabled people, this buoyant jobs market is all too often entirely inaccessible.
The disability employment gap – the difference in the employment rate between non-disabled people and disabled people of working age – stands stubbornly at a shocking 27 per cent in London. But the GLA Conservatives’ new report, Employ-ability, sets out both why getting to grips with this problem would be positive for all Londoners, and how we can go about doing it.
Studies have shown that the vast majority of disabled people are better off from being in work, while unemployment is closely linked to poorer physical and mental health.
But it isn’t just the individuals themselves who benefit – the health of London’s economy is also impacted by the size of the disability employment gap. The Social Market Foundation estimates that the current extent of the gap could be costing Londoners up to £1bn per year, as a result of lost tax revenues, increased pressures on the NHS, and care costs.
There is unfortunately a pervading misconception that employing a disabled person is an unproductive drag on a business. In reality, the statistics show that making the necessary accommodations is relatively cheap.
And London’s businesses – both big and small – need a large and diverse pool of potential employees. A growing number of economically active disabled people would contribute to making this pool bigger.
It is clear that closing this gap must be a priority for all London policymakers. But the question remains: how?
To start with, we can make better use of new apprenticeships programmes. A paltry 0.8 per cent of disabled 16-64 year olds in London started an apprenticeship in 2015/16, despite this being a great way to development new skills and get crucial on-the-job training for a variety of careers.
The Adult Education Budget is about to be devolved to the mayor. I’d like to see him use some of this money specifically to set up an apprenticeship programme pilot for young disabled people. This would give employers an opportunity to experience how positive a more inclusive workforce can be, while helping disabled youngsters into the world of work at an early stage.
On the employer side, we need to change the narrative. The mayor has a vast array of communication tools at his disposal – he could use these to run a campaign specifically targeted at businesses across our city.
He also needs to look at incorporating the disability employment gap into the London Healthy Workplace Charter, which offers advice to employers on how to make their workplaces healthier and happier.
Why can’t this charter include advice on how firms can gauge the size of their own internal disability employment gaps and provide bespoke support for employees? This would go a long way to putting businesses at the heart of the solution.
London is one of the most diverse, tolerant, and inclusive cities in the world; tackling injustices and embracing differences is in our capital’s DNA. Closing the disability employment gap would chime with the spirit of our city.
Now we just need our senior politicians in London to lead the way.