A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: employment action plan

This document outlines the action Scottish Government will take to meet its ambition to at least halve the disability employment gap in Scotland.

Supporting Employers to Recruit and Retain Disabled People

Employers are supported to improve employment practices and provide inclusive workplaces

Why is this important?

Employers of all sizes and in all sectors have a key role to play in reducing the disability employment gap. We know that employers not only want to be able to recruit the right people, with the right skills, at the right time – they also want to retain and develop talent.

Disabled people tell us that when they are in employment, they often find it difficult to progress. We also know that many disabled people feel forced to leave employment and the labour force, due to a lack of access to appropriate and timely support should they acquire an impairment or health condition, or if the impact of an existing impairment intensifies.

There are similarities but also differences between how and where disabled and non-disabled people work. Disabled people work in every sector of our economy, but are more likely to work fewer hours and earn less than non-disabled people. They are also more likely to work for small employers than non-disabled people.

Analysis conducted by the Department for Work and Pensions[6] found that disabled people in work in the UK were almost twice as likely to fall out of work as non-disabled people. In the context of reducing Scotland's disability employment gap, this highlights the need to consider ways of not only helping disabled people who would like to work to move into employment, but also of more effectively supporting those who are already in work to be able to remain there and progress.

We need to ensure that employers are supported to attract and recruit from the vast, and growing, pool of talent that exists within Scotland's disabled community, to retain their skilled employees should they become disabled, and to invest in workforce development, to enable progression.

Case Study: Social Security Scotland – Client Advisor Recruitment

Social Security Scotland – the new executive agency responsible for managing devolved benefits – aims to be a progressive and responsible organisation reflecting Scottish society. Currently many Scottish public sector bodies have low numbers of staff who identify as disabled people. When recruiting client advisors, the agency therefore made a concerted effort to ensure its workforce is diverse. It set up an assurance group and invited organisations representing disabled people to input in relation to the recruitment process (e.g. making recommendations around accessibility, formats for applications, etc.). The resourcing team carried out large scale engagement to widely promote their jobs, and to ensure candidates knew they would be supported and treated with dignity and respect throughout their recruitment journey.

Each candidate identifying that they considered themselves to be disabled, and subsequently invited to interview, was contacted to ascertain any additional support needs or if reasonable adjustments were required to be put in place (e.g. additional time for the assessment). Social Security Scotland also removed qualifications as an entry requirement to apply for the Client Advisor roles, and replaced it with a bespoke skills quiz, testing candidate's literacy and numeracy. The agency received nearly 600 applications, 43 (7.4%) of whom answered 'yes' to the question 'Do you have a health condition or disability?' within the Diversity Monitoring form, while 61 (11.17%) candidates applied under the Guaranteed Interview Scheme. Of those invited to interview, 9.8% identified as disabled people. Nearly all of the disabled candidates who attended an interview were offered a post - 16 of the 90 posts offered (i.e. 17.8%).

The work by Social Security Scotland provides a strong foundation on which to continue to build improved recruitment practice, and key lessons learnt include:

  • engaging early with stakeholders, and providing more time to understand the needs of diverse groups and further develop an inclusive approach sends a positive message;
  • running sessions with stakeholders who work directly with potential candidates was critical in raising awareness of the recruitment approach;
  • collaborative relationships are crucial. The engagement with key partners helped to understand the barriers to recruitment – perceived and real, and to remove these where possible;
  • regular contact with candidates was vital to inform of progress. This meant that applicants didn't feel forgotten and having a dedicated telephone helpline meant candidates always had a means to contact the agency.

Challenging Perceptions of Disabled People

Disabled people inactive in the labour market are more likely to want to work than non-disabled inactive people.

In Scotland, 125,000 working-age disabled people hold qualifications at degree level or above.

1 in 5 working-age people in Scotland are disabled.

Chart showing that disabled people with a degree are less likely to be employed than non-disabled people without one.

Disabled people are employed across all sectors of Scotland's economy and in broadly similar proportions to the non-disabled workforce.

What you told us:

  • The focus must shift from a deficit model that suggests individual disabled people need to change, to addressing the barriers and discrimination that society creates.
  • The Scottish Government, and wider public sector, should become exemplar employers of disabled people, and ensure that other employers can learn from best practice.
  • The landscape of employer engagement and support should be simplified, to ensure that employers can readily access the necessary support to enable them to improve recruitment and retention of disabled employees.
  • The positive business case for increasing inclusion of disabled people in the workplace must be made more strongly.
  • Disabled people themselves should be involved at an early stage in the design and implementation of services – both those aimed at supporting employers, and those that will directly impact on disabled people.
  • Workplaces must be accessible and employers need to better understand their legal duties.
  • The right support to manage health conditions should be available when needed.
  • Disabled people should be helped to understand their rights and how to access redress if these are not upheld.

Action that will be taken:

To ensure that the public sector becomes an exemplar employer, we will:

  • Take the first steps following the recent consultation on increasing disabled peoples' participation in the public sector workforce, and set a target for the employment of disabled people in the Scottish Government (SG) workforce. We will detail this in the Recruitment and Retention Plan for Disabled People which we will publish in spring 2019. This will set out actions SG will take (e.g. improving data collection) as an employer to support disabled people in the workplace, and we will share learning from the experience to encourage other public sector organisations to follow our example.
  • Ensure that Scottish Government becomes an employer of choice for disabled people, at all levels. This will include within the Senior Civil Service, which has already set a target of 13% disabled new entrants by 2025.
  • The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland set an ambition to increase to 15% the percentage of applications from disabled people for regulated public appointments. The Commissioner reports annually on Scottish Government performance against this target, and we will learn from the approach to date.
  • Draw on the work undertaken by Social Security Scotland to improve the recruitment experience for disabled people and achieve a more diverse workforce, and enable other employers to learn from this best practice.

To ensure that employers have the skills and confidence to tap into the vast pool of talent that exists in the disabled community, we will:

  • Invest up to £1 million through the establishment of a new Public Social Partnership, involving employers, government, and disabled people's organisations, to develop solutions to address the gaps in employer knowledge and expertise in attracting, recruiting and retaining disabled people.
  • Ensure that Scotland continues to be a world-leading entrepreneurial nation. We will work with Business Gateway to improve access to knowledge and information on the benefits of recruiting disabled people.
  • Work with Scottish Enterprise; and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to ensure that case managers have the skills and knowledge to promote the business benefits of the employment of disabled workers to businesses seeking to grow.
  • As part of its review, redesign the disability equality element of the Business Pledge, including developing a more appropriate and meaningful indicator to support more employers to meet the Business Pledge commitment on more diverse and balanced workforces.
  • Work with employers, disabled people, and their organisations to develop a sustained campaign from 2020/2021 to promote the positive business case for employing disabled people, and target it directly at employers who could benefit the most from this talented labour pool.
  • We will appoint a business leader to advise us on the steps we should take to support, or incentivise, businesses to reduce the perceived risks of recruiting people with fluctuating health conditions.
  • Alongside our work with the public sector, we will do more to encourage all employers to develop more inclusive working practices. We will therefore explore, working together with business:
    • extending conditionality for public sector grants and procurement to cover transparency around the numbers of disabled people employed;
    • putting plans in place to develop more inclusive workplaces to support disabled people to stay and progress in work; and
    • providing more effective support and advice to SMEs.

To achieve a co-ordinated and aligned employability and health pathway for those with mental health problems, we will:

  • Improve access to support for those experiencing mental illness , including in 2019-2021:
    • Bringing together the learning from projects now underway as part of the Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027 to develop pathways that enable those seeking to enter or remain in work to access appropriate and timely mental health and employability support;
    • Work with employers to support the development of mentally flourishing workplaces.
  • As part of the Health & Work Support pilot[7] in Dundee and Fife running from 2018-2020:
    • Introduce and utilise a Health & Work Indicator (across health and other services) to allow better understanding of the extent of mental health barriers to employability;
    • Link this to improvement work being undertaken to develop referral pathways into Health & Work Support, enabling more participants to engage with and access the service;
    • Test and evaluate the impact of additional mental health training and interventions provided by clinical staff, including the availability of additional Well In Work planning and support for participants and employers;
  • We will review the delivery and quality of Individual Placement and Support (IPS) in Fair Start Scotland to ensure that participants are receiving the right support to enter work.

To enable disabled people to get the support they need to re-enter the workplace after a period of ill health, we will:

  • Provide disability management and return to work support training for 300 healthcare, local government and third sector professionals over 5 years.
  • Continue to explore – including as part of the Scottish Government's current review of health and work policy (due to report in Spring 2019) how best to embed fair work as a clinical outcome within the NHS, recognising that doing so will enable the development of work-related clinical standards, pathways and tools which will enable more people to secure the work-relevant health support they need to move into and stay in work. We will ensure that our work complements the work that is already being undertaken by NHS Health Scotland.

Finally, to ensure that employees are aware of their respective workplace rights we will:

  • Work with partners, including STUC and disabled people's organisations, to ensure disabled people have access to information and guidance about their legislative employment rights and how to take action when those rights are denied. This will include identifying gaps in existing advice services, and making investment available to develop proposals to address gaps.
  • Through an expanded Workplace Equality Fund, work with employers and trade unions to improve workplace practices for the benefit of disabled people.


Email: EmployabilityDET@gov.scot 

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