We often hear government ministers these days saying how they are helping more disabled people into work. There seems to be an air of confidence around how schemes such as Access to Work are helping more disabled people back to work. Admittedly, this self-congratulation is rightly tempered by phrases such as, “There’s lots more to do”. But with lofty ambitions to halve the disability employment gap, the tone from the Department for Work and Pensions seems to indicate that it’s all going pretty well. Is it?

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is published quarterly by the Office for National Statistics, and publishes figures for number and percentages of people in work, looking for work, and those not working for one reason or another – often due to long term sickness or disability.

To be fair, the number of disabled people in work would appear on initial inspection to have increased over the past few years. But then so has the figure for the general population. As a percentage of the total in work, it seems that whilst the number of disabled people has increased, the disability employment gap (i.e. the difference between disabled people in work and the general population) has hardly changed at all. The Learning and Work Institute predicts that it will take more than 200 years to halve this gap at the present rate of progress. So, the government ought to be asking some serious questions around how it can do better. Questions that RNIB, Action for Blind People, and other disability charities can help answer.

What does the Labour Force Survey tell us about blind and partially sighted people? RNIB carry out our own analysis of the Labour Force Survey every year. Because of the low incidence of sight loss compared to the general population, we have to do some additional work to average out the numbers over a three year period. But the trend doesn’t look good.

Rather than increasing in line with the general population, the employment rate of blind and partially sighted people (the term used by the LFS is ‘long term disabled with a seeing difficulty’) is steadily falling. The disability employment gap, if you are living with sight loss, is widening.

Quarterly LFS figures also fail to recognise the huge drop in employment rates of blind and partially sighted people over the past ten years. Our My Voice survey revealed that only one in four people registered with sight loss are currently working, compared with one in three ten years ago.

Given that government schemes such as the Work Programme have low performance for blind and partially sighted people finding work (only 8 per cent on the scheme actually found work), it’s time for a radical shake up of these statutory services.

We wholeheartedly support the government’s aim to halve the disability employment gap. With a green paper on disability employment support due to be published in the Autumn, we hope the government will work more closely with us. We want to help shape services, such as Access to Work and the forthcoming Health and Work Programme, to support more blind and partially sighted people find jobs, keep working, and develop in their careers.

Andy White
Working Age and Employment Manager