1. Ministerial Foreword
I am delighted to publish this, our second annual update to 'A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: Employment Action Plan'. When I published that plan in 2018, I did so with the knowledge that a long-term commitment to reduce the disability employment gap was only achievable if the underlying strategy was agile, and responsive. This has served us well in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic – however, to say that the past year has been a challenging time for all Scots is an understatement. For many of us, it has been one of the toughest years ever experienced, and one we will remember and continue to recover from for some time to come.
While the pandemic has affected us all, it is clear that it has not affected everyone equally. It is not yet possible to describe in detail all of the ways in which the current public health crisis has impacted Scotland's diverse communities, but we know that in many ways it has held a magnifying glass to existing inequalities faced by disabled people, women, and those who are not in Fair Work. That is why we are publishing our latest annual progress report alongside updates on the Fair Work and Gender Pay Gap action plans. In addition, later this month we will publish the final progress report on a Fairer Scotland for Disabled People which will include an analysis of the national performance framework's indicators from the perspective of disabled people, and the views from our Disability Summit on what the Scottish Government should focus on for disabled people in the next Parliamentary session. It is increasingly evident that it is not possible to consider the barriers that face disabled people in isolation, and this joint publication is one of many steps we have taken to address the intersectional nature of the challenge.
Our response to the pandemic has been swift. We have put in place a support package worth over £2.3 billion to enable businesses to close down safely, in addition to a further £570 million to help mitigate some of the further financial challenges faced by businesses. We know that young people are often those most affected by economic downturns, which is why we have acted quickly to ensure that all of Scotland's young people will benefit from the Young Person's Guarantee – ensuring that everyone between the ages of 16-24, including disabled young people, will have the opportunity of a job, placement, or further training. In addition, recovery will depend on the provision of high quality, tailored pre-employment support, which is why we have continued to progress our No One Left Behind transformational change agenda and ensured that Fair Start Scotland will continue until March 2023.
Disabled people have told us, via disabled people's organisations, that while the impact of COVID-19 has been overwhelmingly negative, it has accelerated the adoption of much more flexible workplace policies across the economy. Home and flexible working are expected to better enable some disabled people to enter and stay within work but the role of employers will be crucial here, and we are committed to ensuring that we do not lose the rare positive elements that the public health crisis has brought us.
The Scottish Government's commitment to disabled people is clear: we will continue to tackle and reduce the barriers that disabled people face; where appropriate, we will respond to systemic shocks such as COVID-19 and the UK's exit from the European Union; and we will continue to pursue our goal to reduce the disability employment gap by at least half, by 2038.
Pre-COVID we had continued to make steady progress in reducing the disability employment gap, with the gap continuing to fall from 35.5 percentage points in 2018 to 32.6 percentage points in 2019 (Annual Population Survey, Jan-Dec), a substantial decrease driven primarily by an increase in the employment rate of disabled people. Evidence of the impact of COVID-19 on labour market outcomes of disabled people is still emerging, but there are indications from the latest data that the disability employment gap is starting to widen. While any increase in the disability employment gap is disappointing, it is important to recognise that we have still made progress from our 2016 baseline of 37.4 percentage points.
Over the past year, we have continued to work to remove and reduce the barriers that will prevent disabled people from benefiting from our economic recovery. This includes having undertaken a review of Individual Placement and Support (IPS). The findings and recommendations, to be published in spring 2021, will help to enhance the delivery through Fair Start Scotland moving forward, as well as informing provision developed under No One Left Behind.
The UK Government Access to Work programme continues to provide essential support to disabled people in employment and whilst it remains a reserved matter, we are committed to doing all we can to help enhance delivery. In conjunction with the Department for Work and Pensions, we have therefore established an Access to Work stakeholder forum for Scotland – ensuring that for the first time disabled people in Scotland have a formal mechanism through which to shape and improve this vital support.
Despite difficult financial circumstances, after engagement with Disabled People's Organisations (DPOs) and disabled parents to help inform delivery, we invested a further £1 million into the Parental Employment Support Fund (PESF). This funding boost focuses on supporting unemployed disabled parents in households impacted by child poverty to move closer to and into employment. In addition, we recently announced that we will invest a further £5 million to support disabled parents, building on the first phase of PESF, and delivering on our original commitment to invest up to £6 million.
In year one we established a Public Social Partnership (PSP), bringing together employers, government, third sector, and disabled people's organisations (DPOs) to develop and test solutions to the barriers employers face in attracting, recruiting and retaining disabled people. Since its establishment, the PSP has developed governance structures and work streams, and with the guidance of the Scottish Union for Supported Employment (SUSE) as lead partner, has been developing the work plans for each of its five work streams.
I have been clear from the outset that reducing the disability employment gap is only possible with an all-Scotland approach. We will continue to develop our collective approach to employability with local government, through our partnership agreement, and we will build on our strong relationships with DPOs, as well as driving further collaboration with employers.
I am deeply grateful to everyone who has, and continues to be involved in the development and delivery of the plan. Its importance increases with each passing year, and whilst we are encouraged that more employers are realising the depth and breadth of talent that exists within Scotland's disabled community, recent events mean that we must build on the work to date to further address structural inequalities. Large challenges remain, but we are committed, and together with you we will work to ensure that disabled people are able to, and continue to play a full and active part in Scotland's future.
Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills