Thursday 13 August 2015

Disability Confident and Disability Employment Figures

(This particular piece started as an attempt to get a comment out to DNS when my email froze up on me yesterday, but I've now got the up to date ONS figures via that DNS article and it seems a shame not to bring it up to date, though in effect I'm completely rewriting it).

What provoked this new piece is that DWP are once again beating their drum on Twitter for the increase in the number of disabled people in employment based on the latest Office of National Statistics report. 

Now their headline figure of 225,000 more disabled people in work versus a year ago is clearly a good thing, but last quarter it was 238,000 more disabled people in work versus a year previously, so is a fall to 225K good, bad or indifferent? Unfortunately it's difficult to tell, the Labour market has some significant seasonal variation, and, AIUI, the ONS figures aren't corrected for that, though whether disabled people should be as heavily affected by seasonality is questionable - there probably aren't many wheelchair users engaged in seasonal agricultural work, for instance. Equally Caroline Richardson noted in comments for DNS's article that the employed figure includes people on workfare and other purely temporary schemes, effectively the employed figure is being permanently bolstered by the size of the cohort on workfare at any one time, while the unemployment figure is systematically lowered by the same number.

The ONS data is a wall of numbers that really needs a graphical presentation, but I don't have the spoons to put that together at the moment, so I'm going to pull two comparisons out of the stats, change versus the last quarter, and change versus the last year. The bracketed numbers following the figures for the year are the actual current totals rather than the changes to give you some perspective on the size of each group.

For the last quarter (Jun-Aug 2015)
Employed Disabled People: Up 42K
Unemployed Disabled People: Up 22K
Economically Inactive Disabled people: Up 86K

For the last year (Sep 2014-Aug 2015)
Employed Disabled People: Up 226K (3,246K)
Unemployed Disabled People: Down 15K (423K)
Economically Inactive Disabled people: Up 133K (3,399K)

Ultimately it is the number of disabled people not in work that Disability Confident is supposed to challenge, that includes both the number of unemployed disabled people and the number who are economically inactive - not either in work or looking for it. A 225K rise in the year in the number of disabled people with jobs is positive, but the number unemployed is only down 15K, while the number of economically inactive is up by 133K. Clearly the number of disabled people captured in these stats is increasing, and that means a 225K increase in numbers employed isn't as impressive as it sounds, the fall in the number of disabled people out of work is much slower, and the number economically inactive is significantly worse, in fact looking at the previous quarter alone, more than twice as many disabled people became economically inactive as found jobs, while the number who are unemployed also increased, so that good figure for the year actually masks some disturbing numbers for the last quarter. 

Disability Confident is supposed to challenge the Disability Employment gap (the difference between the actual number of disabled people employed and the number of disabled people who would be expected to have a job if we were employed at the same rate as non-disabled). That is estimated at 2 million people, and Disability Confident is targeted at getting half of those into work, but DWP keep quoting increases in numbers employed, whereas we actually need to look at the decreases in those unemployed and economically inactive, figures which aren't nearly so good and in some ways are down-right worrying - what is driving the increase in economically inactive disabled people, a figure which dwarfs the number of unemployed disabled people roughly 8:1. Certain possibilities suggest themselves - fear of involvement with workfare, DWP's trigger-happy sanctions regime and general hostility towards disabled people within JCP (c.f. reports of disabled people being deliberately pressured in order to meet sanctions targets), not to mention the reported increase in hostility towards disabled people in the workplace as a whole, but none of these are things the government can afford to acknowledge, never mind address.  And of course there's also George Osborne's assertion in the budget (re the 30% cut in ESA) that we're all just lazy oiks who can't be bothered to work as a possibility, but I tend to class that as a disability hate crime rather than a serious policy suggestion.

For Disability Confident to reach its 1 million target, it needs to get all c400K unemployed disabled people into work, and then persuade another c600K disabled people who are currently economically inactive to return to being jobseekers, and then get them into work too. As Disability Confident is solely targeted at employers it is difficult to see how they intend to achieve this, but it is clear that other DWP initiative intended to pressure disabled people into work seem to be at least as successful at pressuring them entirely out of the workforce as into work.

There aren't any answers in the new data, but there are a lot of disturbing questions.

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