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If more families are to be lifted out of poverty, the government should be aiming for 60 per cent of disabled peopl...
If more families are to be lifted out of poverty, the government should be aiming for 60 per cent of disabled people in work by 2013. To achieve this it must start spending as much money on employment initiatives for disabled people as other European countries do, says the Trade Union Congress today, as it releases a new report to coincide with International Day of Disabled People.

'Setting new goals: disabled people, work and poverty' says that families with a disabled adult are more likely to be poor than other families, and helping more disabled people into work is key to improving their income and their children's prospects. But the TUC says that it would be wrong for the government to make disabled people look for jobs as a condition of getting their benefits.

The TUC says that establishing a new 60 per cent target would see Britain up amongst the best countries in the world when it comes to the employment of disabled people. There are currently 49 per cent of working adults with a disability in Britain (about the same as the EU average), but Britain falls well behind the USA, Canada, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, who all have disability employment rates of over 50 per cent.

Compared to the rest of Europe, Britain spends very little on employment programmes for disabled people. If Britain spent as much as Sweden, spending would have to increase by 2000 per cent. A more realistic option, says the report, would be to bring spending on disabled people in line with the EU average. But this alone would require five times more than is allocated currently, roughly equal to an extra £1bn a year for disabled people.

A target of 60 per cent of disabled working age adults in employment by 2013 might be ambitious, but the report insists that it is achievable. The South East already boasts 60 per cent of disabled adults in work, with the South West and Eastern England following closely behind (59 and 58 per cent). If other parts of Britain had as good a record, there would an extra 750,000 long-term disabled people in employment.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Being able to get and keep a good job can mean the difference between poverty and a reasonable income for disabled people and their families. Not all disabled people can or want to work, and people with severe disabilities shouldn't be forced into jobs. But there are thousands of disabled people who are prevented from working and a better targeted, more resourced approach could drastically increase the numbers of disabled people able to go out to work.'

'Setting new goals: disabled people, work and poverty' suggests that the government could increase the number of disabled people in work by:

Strengthening the Disability Discrimination Act - although it is helping change attitudes and having a positive effect on the lives of many, there is little that it can do to improve access to education, health services, transport, all of which can significantly limit the employment opportunities open to disabled job seekers. Similarly, a narrow definition of disability excludes most people who suffer from mental illnesses from the Act's protection.

There should be a new public sector duty to promote opportunities for disabled people, encouraging the NHS and local authorities to publicise disability equality in the same way that they currently do for race initiatives under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2001.

Expanding the highly successful Access to Work scheme which provides subsidies to disabled workers and their employers to meet extra costs which might otherwise prevent a disabled person from working. In 2000/01, 23,000 disabled people were helped into work by the scheme. Yet knowledge of this successful scheme is spread by word of mouth alone, without any publicity. The TUC believes that Access to Work should be advertised to employers and disabled people, and funding made available to meet the increased demand that would undoubtedly arise.

The removal of a number of obstacles to employment erected by the benefits disabled people rely on. Many disabled people are scared to give up their benefits and take jobs which are not secure, for fear that when the job comes to an end, they will no longer be eligible for benefits. To ease fears, the government should promise that there will be no review of their Disability Living Allowance for at least six months after they take a job.

* A full copy of 'Setting new goals: disabled people, work and poverty' is available here.

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