Sunday, 28 June 2015

Is Disability Confident Too Embarrassed To Talk About Disability Discrimination?

We see it time and again, some DWP apparatchik or businessman tweeting that the only cause of the disability employment gap - the 2 million or so disabled people who should be in work if we were employed at the same rate as non-disabled people - is that business is embarrassed by disability.

Now that would be bad enough, it would be like employers being embarrassed that a job applicant is black, or a woman, or gay, or Muslim, and denying them a job because of that. But when we talk about people being denied jobs over their ethnicity, their gender, their sexual orientation or their religion, we don't call it 'embarrassment', we call it discrimination. Why is disability different?

In part this may be a historical problem common across the whole non-disabled population. I've had non-disabled people tell me I'm lying when I describe on-street harassment, up to and including physical assault, that has happened to me personally and where disability was clearly identified by the perpetrators as the reason for the attack. For some endearingly naive people this is part of a refusal to believe that anyone could attack disabled people, though sadly this is usually often coupled with a perception of us as less than adult. For others the reasoning seems murkier, perhaps because harassing disabled people as 'scroungers' and 'frauds' is something they feel encouraged towards by right-wing media and the scrounger rhetoric it has rammed down our throat for five years now, and to admit that that is discrimination would be to condemn themselves.

It may be that the designers of Disability Confident at the Department of Work and Pensions shared that problem, and sought frantically for some reason that would explain 2 million disabled people denied work without needing them to use the discrimination-word. But shyness and sensitivity are not qualities typically associated with DWP, so why 'embarrassed'? Why not 'bias'? Why not 'widespread contempt for Equality Act 2010'? Why not 'bigotry'? There are plenty of options that could have condemned the failure of employers to employ disabled people at the same rate as non-disabled, yet DWP chose to go with 'embarrassed'.

So when an employer bins a CV because it mentions disability, he's embarrassed?
So when an employer discounts a disabled applicant because they turn out to be disabled at interview, it's because he's embarrassed?
So when an employer forces a disabled worker out for daring to ask for a reasonable adjustment under EA2010, he's embarrassed?
So when an employer bullies a disabled person until finally they can't take any more, it's just a little light-hearted embarrassment between friends?

Let's remember that the latest Workfare figures show that employers would rather employ an ex-con (14% with a 'Job Outcome') than a disabled person (10.2% with a 'Job-Outcome', 5% if they are ex-Incapacity Benefit recipients), against 24.7% for the scheme as a whole.

Let's remember that a recent survey by the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI)  showed 37% of disabled people felt they had been discriminated against in the recruitment process, and the real figure is undoubtedly higher given the impossibility of knowing if your CV was binned for mentioning disability.

Let's remember that a survey of employers just before the recession announced it a triumph for equality that around 26% of employers would consider employing a disabled person who had been in receipt of Incapacity Benefit, never mind that that meant 74% of employers had declared they would rather break the law than employ a disabled person (it being illegal to consider disability in an employment decision).

Is it just possible that 'embarrassment' isn't an appropriate description? Did anyone at Disability Confident think to ask actual disabled people what we think? It's not as if 'Nothing For Us, Without Us' is the fundamental tenet of disability rights or anything. Oh, hang on, yes it is. So imagine how disabled people feel when Disability Confident dismisses 2m disabled people who should be in work but are denied that right as just the result of a little embarrassment?

I've been there on the front line of disability discrimination, having the manager responsible for my career development tell me (when he was sure there were no witnesses), that my disability made me an unacceptable risk to his schedule and that under no circumstances would he put me into a job at my own grade. And when I was finally forced out of the company after a four year fight I had the very senior recruiter handling my 'outsourcing' take me aside and say "You need to understand that with your level of disability there is no chance of your getting a job in the private sector, and next to none in the public sector", a statement other recruiters later confirmed.

None of these people seemed 'embarrassed' about my disability, thought to give the recruiters their due they did seem embarrassed at acknowledging the discrimination I faced as a disabled job hunter. And I've talked to far too many other disabled people, who had faced identical contempt for our rights in the workplace, to believe that I am some kind of anomaly (the only anomaly was my ex-employer 's claim to be a national leader on workplace equality).

So here's a novel idea for Disability Confident, let's show the confidence to call it what it is: Unembarrassed, unpunished, institutionalised Disability Discrimination.

And until we challenge it, whether through Disability Confident or a scheme that actually addresses the needs of disabled workers and job seekers, rather than one that tries to drape a veil of embarrassment across the whole, horrible, discriminatory truth, we won't actually do anything to change the reality and allow disabled people to compete on an equal footing in the jobs market.

If 2 million people in any other minority were denied work through discrimination then it would be a scandal in every newspaper and news report in the land, but because it's disabled people being victimised people just try to write it off with an excuse: 'they'd be more trouble', 'they cost more', 'they can't be relied on'. Take those words, now imagine applying them to a worker who is black, or gay, or Muslim. Unpleasant taste in your mouth? That's the taste of discrimination, now imagine the stench of it from our side of the divide.

So long as industry, and Disability Confident, pander to the perception of disability as a problem, it will remain a problem, and the truth we face will remain not 'embarrassment', but open and winked and connived at Disablist Discrimination.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Problem With Disability Confident

The Minister for Disabled People, blowing his trumpet for Disability Confident, tells us (those of us on Linked-In anyway) that the number of disabled people in work is up 238,000 year on year, that's good. Not mentioning that the number of disabled people who are economically inactive also rose, up 49,000, or that the number of disabled people who are unemployed only fell by 73,000, that doesn't inspire confidence, disability or otherwise. In fact if we assume those extra economically inactive disabled people were previously unemployed, then the overall change in non-working disabled people is barely 24,000. The disability employment gap, between number of employed disabled people and what it would be if disabled people were employed at the same rate as non-disabled is about 2 million, Even if we accept the minister's 238,000 figure, that means we need 8 years of similar progress to eliminate the deficit. If it's the fall in unemployed and economically inactive we should really be looking at, because of disabled people being squeezed out of the benefit system (I'm one) then we're actually looking at more like 80 years before equality. I don't know about other people, but I'm really not prepared to wait that long.

The problem with Disability Confident is that it isn't actually confident about disability. If we want equality in the workplace then we need employers to perceive disability as normal, but Disability Confident, and indeed all DWP disability initiatives, are heavily based around inspiration porn (the portrayal of disabled people as somehow 'inspiring', which is uniformly loathed by disabled people), this isn't normalising perceptions of disability, it's actively denormalising perceptions, and trotting out Paralympians at Disability Confident events (or war veterans like Simon Weston) simply serves to further denormalise expectations of us. Beyond that it's clear that Disability Confident perceives disability as a 'problem' that needs to be explained away to employers. If you pander to the perception of disability as a problem, then it will remain a problem.

What has been clear from the outset is that Disability Confidence lacks the confidence to challenge established views of disability, that it does not want to confront employers over workplace disablism, the reality so many of us face in our careers, the reality that ends careers (mine is one), or prevents them from ever starting. When Disability Confident says 'look at how much longer disabled people remain in post' and tries to sell that as a positive attribute, then how many of us stop to think, to realise that disabled people like me stay in post longer because our careers are held back, because we fear being unable to find another post, because we can't find employers willing to take us on. Staying in post longer isn't a virtue to sell us by, it's a symptom of the discrimination we face.

Ultimately Disability Confident lacks ambition, or is that aspiration? It has targeted the low-hanging fruit, employers who are already willing to employ disabled people, but just aren't very good at it. I had an employer tell me the other day that disabled people campaigning for equal employment rights were 'a cancer', that he would only employ disabled people if he could pay them a lower rate, and that he would rather relocate abroad than obey the Equality Act. You may label him an exception, but it was a manager saying much the same who brought my career to a halt, and I've met an awful lot of disabled people with similar experiences. If Disability Confident truly wants to make a difference, then it is going to have to challenge this sort of ground-in, embittered disability discrimination in employment, because, until it does, disabled people's CVs will keep on ending up in the bin.