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Disabled people would have a better chance to find a job if the government did more to support businesses - by abolishing national insurance contributions of disabled workers and providing incentives to hire workers with disability.

Currently only 47% of disabled adults are in employment compared to nearly 80% of non-disabled adults, with disabled people still not being paid fairly. Yet 77% of the public say they would think more highly of a company which made an effort to employ someone with a disability.

The situation has been revealed in a new report from the University of Birmingham and think tank Localis launched in London today - which suggests that is could be bolstered by a sector deal and the abolishment of national insurance contributions of disabled workers. This would help to close the employment gap.

The disability economy or the ‘purple pound’ could be bolstered by a sector – the government’s proposed route to target particular economic opportunities in addition to general investment.

Francis Davis, leader researcher, University of Birmingham said:

‘The challenge is local as well as national and so we assess each of the manifestoes of the Metro Mayor Combined Authorities to see how much more they could do, or build on what they already propose to access entrepreneurship and employability of disabled people in their areas.’

Researchers at the University of Birmingham found that the governments’ new Green Paper to develop an industrial strategy could be further supported if they found ways to bolster and target the ‘purple pound’, which is currently valued at £220 billion.

The study found that a sector deal for the ‘purple pound’ was merited for several reasons; on the grounds of equity as the disability gap was too high; a national need to unlock talent, and potential export strengths of assistive technologies abroad.

Recommendations were made including giving businesses more incentives to employ disabled workers through tax breaks; and a sector deal involving Metro Mayor’s doing their own ‘disability’ deals regionally; and through expanding the assistive technology industry with its immense export potential after Brexit.

At present the assistive technology market is growing at 6% per annum with UK sales exceeding £1 billion, this is in contrast to the Chinese and US market which will soon exceed £150 billion.

Liam Booth-Smith, co-author, Localis, said:

‘The disability employment gap is closing, but it is not closing quickly enough. While government has made important steps to encourage employers to hire those with a disability; the recently published industrial strategy green paper failing to mention disability or disabled workers shows much more needs to be done to put this issue at the heart of our economic policy.

‘Our research calls on the government to create a ‘sector deal’ for disability as part of the emerging industrial strategy. It should offer measures to increase the participation of disabled people in the labour market and support the development of the industries and businesses growing up around the needs of disabled people.’

A set of recommendations were made by the research team:

  • the government should do a 'disability sector deal' as part of the industrial strategy;
  • Metro Mayors should do their own local 'disability deals' to mainstream the disabled contribution;
  • assistive technology skills in this country should be given a mainstream unit to advance their cause, because they risk being buried in the national Office for Life Sciences whose agenda is dominated by large pharmaceutical companies.

The researchers said these recommendations should be underpinned by:

  • A new approach to infrastructure and the use of government procurement to make disabled jobs, disabled entrepreneurship and SMEs employing disabled people a key feature of procurement allocations; 
  • National insurance remission for disabled staff on the NI that would have otherwise have been charged to employers;
  • Enhanced tax reliefs for those investing in companies owned or run or serving disabled people;
  • Working parties to unlock under sweated and underused assets such as the billions held in NHS charity investments and local authority pension funds to create a new generation of investment funders for SMEs and social enterprises responding to the 'purple pound';
  • A new approach to leadership- government has done much to explore obstacles to BME communities and women leading in the FTSE and other industrial sectors. It has noted that conscious policies work best. And yet neither BEIS nor the Equalities and Human Rights Commission have done as much when it comes to targeting the development of disabled leaders beyond sport we recommend a working party and new actions to address this.

For interview requests or for a copy of the study, please contact Jenni Ameghino, Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0) 121 414 9041. For out of hours media enquiries please call: +44 (0) 7789 921 165

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • Localis is an independent, cross-party, leading not-for-profit think tank that was established in 2001. Their work promotes neo-localist ideas through research, events and commentary, covering a range of local and national domestic policy issues.