Publication - Strategy/plan

A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: employment action plan

Published: 11 Dec 2018
Fair Work, Employability and Skills Directorate
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This document outlines the action Scottish Government will take to meet its ambition to at least halve the disability employment gap in Scotland.

A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: employment action plan


The Scottish Government is focussed on creating a more successful Scotland, with opportunities for all to flourish via sustainable and inclusive economic growth. Ensuring that the rights of disabled people are respected and maintained is central to inclusive growth. That is why in 2016 we announced our ambition to at least halve Scotland's disability employment gap – the difference between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people. At that time, the employment rate for disabled people was 42.8% compared to 80.2% for the non-disabled working age population, representing a baseline disability employment gap of 37.4 percentage points. This means that in order to at least halve the gap, we need to reduce it to at least 18.7 percentage points.

Latest figures show the employment rate of disabled people in Scotland currently stands at 45.4%, compared to 81.2% for non-disabled people, representing a gap of 35.8 percentage points[2]. While it is encouraging that there has been a small reduction in the last few years, Scotland's disability employment gap remains large and enduring.

Labour market outcomes for disabled people have consistently lagged behind those of the wider working age population throughout the economic cycle. This suggests that reasons beyond the health of our economy drive Scotland's persistent disability employment gap. Significant labour market barriers exist for disabled people but can also be influenced by gender, race, religion, sexuality and class. These barriers may include stereotyping and discrimination. When someone shares more than one of these characteristics, disadvantage can be compounded. For example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that where pay gaps by ethnicity exist, they become larger for disabled people[3]. We also recognise that there is diversity within the disabled community, and that some groups are disproportionately impacted by the disability employment gap (e.g. learning disabilities with an estimated employment rate of 7%, or those with mental health problems). It may, therefore, be appropriate to identify impairment-specific actions in some cases.

We know that seeking to at least halve the disability employment gap is an ambitious commitment, but disabled people deserve no less. The opportunity to fair and sustainable work, on an equal basis with others, is a fundamental human right and is enshrined in Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)[4]. Critically, this includes both the acquisition of employment within a labour market that is open, inclusive and accessible to disabled people, and the right to appropriate support for those who may acquire an impairment in the course of existing employment.

Whilst it is important that the Scottish Government leads by example, we know that we cannot deliver this commitment alone. Disabled people are crucial in helping to ensure that the action taken is relevant to their needs, supportive of their aspirations, and enables them to reach their potential. We will ensure their voices are at the heart of the this work as we take it forward.

We know that employers will require support too. This action plan includes commitments to ensure that employers are challenged and supported to recruit, retain and promote disabled people within their organisation. We will showcase and build on existing good practice, including examples of positive action and we will develop a refreshed partnership with business to drive forward this agenda. We will work with employers to develop support on those issues where they have indicated they would welcome guidance, including in relation to supporting employees with mental health problems. It is important to recognise that by delivering more inclusive workplaces and improving employment practice for disabled people, we improve employment for all, as well as securing a range of benefits for employers. A more diverse workforce provides a wider perspective, offering insights for decision-making, and leading to the delivery of services that better meet the needs of all the people of Scotland.

We know that many of the barriers to employment for disabled people, but also the potential solutions to address these, reside across a range of policy areas – including, for example, education, transport, and health. We have worked across teams to develop this plan, recognising the connection between issues. The work on child poverty in particular stands out, however we have also already identified some other key areas where we can work across sectors to begin to address known barriers. Initial action is focussed on steps that the Scottish Government and its agencies can take – this is part of the leadership role we know we must take. But it is clear the plan will need to evolve through a collaborative approach and with a level of commitment that will be sustained for a significant time. This will require cross-party, cross-Scotland support, leadership, and action.

Being out of work has a detrimental impact on many disabled people's lives. Helping employers recruit the best talent and enabling disabled people to follow their aspirations is the right and just thing to do. It also makes sense for our economy and public finances – both now and as our labour market and population changes over the longer-term. Without action, in a decade's time, disabled people could still be no more likely to be in work. Reducing the disability employment gap by half could increase Scotland's annual economic output (GDP) by up to 3.5% in real terms, the equivalent of around £4 billion[5]. This would enhance the significant contribution already made by disabled Scots to our economy.

We recognise that 2019 could be a time of unparalleled change for the Scottish Labour Market – exiting the European Union could be highly disruptive, and the impact on the economy is as yet unknown. Our action plan must therefore be capable of responding to any shifts, as well as being proactive – leading, adapting and evolving to meet the needs of an ever changing labour market.