1. Ministerial Foreword
In December 2018 I launched A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: Employment Action Plan, which outlined the action that the Scottish Government and its agencies will take to help meet our ambitious commitment to at least halve the disability employment gap in Scotland by 2038.
At the time of publishing this update report, we are faced with an unprecedented and fast moving challenge in the form of COVID-19. This outbreak is already having a huge public health and economic impact in Scotland. How it will affect the immediate and longer term employment opportunities of disabled people in particular is not yet known.
However, I can assure you that the Scottish Government is utilising the full powers available to it to minimise the negative impact of the pandemic on our economy. We will work tirelessly to ensure workers receive as much support as possible, we strengthen our assistance for business, and continue to remain alert to inequalities in the labour market. But more than ever, we will need to be creative, working with our partners in local government, third and private sectors, maximising opportunities for collaboration to ensure we are able to pursue both our economic and social objectives.
Since 2016 (our baseline year), the labour market in Scotland performed strongly, breaking records on employment and unemployment. There has been growth in average earnings, an increase in the proportion of employees earning at least the Real Living Wage, and the employment rate of both women and disabled people has risen – the latter by almost 3 percentage points, contributing to an overall reduction in the disability employment gap by almost 2 percentage points.
However, there has been less progress in reducing inactivity in our labour market, which limits the capacity and potential of our workforce, including many disabled people, to contribute to the economy. At the end of 2018, the employment rate of disabled people remained 35.5 percentage points lower than that of non-disabled people, signalling that we need to maintain momentum in order to achieve our ambition to halve this gap.
I recognise that this is a persistent and complex issue, which requires long-term commitment and action across sectors and policy areas. This annual report outlines the key progress achieved in the first year of delivering our Action Plan. I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge, but I am pleased some progress has been achieved and I am confident that the initial activity undertaken will help to drive the incremental change necessary to ensure we meet our ambition.
Progress in year one includes the publication of the Scottish Government's Recruitment and Retention Plan for Disabled People, which sets out actions we will take as an employer to support more disabled people to enter employment and, critically, to improve their experience of work within our organisation. The plan includes a target for external recruitment that, on average over the next 7 years, 25% of successful candidates will be disabled people.
Engaging with businesses and employers continues to be a key area of focus, and during this first year we have relaunched the Scottish Business Pledge, with over 700 businesses signed up so far. We have established a Public Social Partnership, bringing together employers, government, national disability organisations, and disabled people's organisations to identify, develop, and test solutions to the barriers employers face in attracting, recruiting and retaining disabled people. We also continue to improve the support available to business and enterprise, to enable them to achieve Fair Work objectives and more diverse and inclusive workforces.
We are working to ensure that levers available through public procurement are better utilised to help secure more employment opportunities for those facing barriers to the labour market, including disabled people. In addition, programmes are ongoing to ensure that the accessibility of transport networks, which can have a significant impact on disabled people's ability to access job opportunities, is enhanced.
That is not to say there have not been challenges. The first year of delivery of this plan has been during a time of political upheaval with the uncertainty surrounding the UK's exit from the European Union, a general election, and the subsequent delay to the UK Budget - all of which have caused financial challenges.
I have said before that realising our ambition is not something we can achieve on our own. The year ahead holds a great many uncertainties and it is likely that we will need to re-prioritise some activity. However, we will focus on action that aligns with the work of our partners in order to make the greatest impact. This includes working closely with Local Government as well as the third and private sectors, all of which provide a significant contribution in supporting disabled people to enter and remain in employment. In reviewing membership of the Strategic Labour Market Group, we will seek representation for disabled people's interests, to ensure appropriate experience and expertise is available to inform delivery of the Labour Market Strategy.
We will seek to progress further work on the Supported Employment Review, working closely with the Scottish Local Authority Economic Development group, as well as undertaking a review of Individual and Placement Support (IPS), to ensure that we are delivering the best in-work support to those who need it most. We will ensure that our substantial investment in employability services, including Fair Start Scotland, continues to focus on supporting disabled people into work.
The Parental Employment Support Fund will be delivered in partnership with local authorities and those with lived experience, to improve pre-employment and in-work support to the six priority family groups impacted by child poverty, including disabled parents. This will help inform the further support that will be developed through the Disabled Parents Employment Support Fund.
I am delighted to announce that, in conjunction with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), we will establish an Access to Work stakeholder group for Scotland – ensuring that disabled people have a formal mechanism through which to shape and improve this vital support.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been involved in the development and delivery of the plan so far. Halving the disability employment gap in Scotland is an ambitious task and the challenges we face in achieving it have undoubtedly increased in recent times. But we remain committed to enabling disabled people to play a full and active part in Scotland, and welcome the support and contribution of wider partners who share this ambition. It is this collective effort that truly is key to delivering the best outcomes for disabled people.
Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills