The National Disability Strategy: some wins for disabled social entrepreneurs, but more action required

Hannah Mason

Head of Social Entrepreneur Support

5th August 2021



The systemic barriers disabled people in this country face – whether that is starting a business or accessing public transport - are both unjust, and deeply connected.  

As a recent Centre for Social Justice Disability Report said, “every headline indicator – across employment, education, housing, transport, and goods and services – reveal significant inequality between disabled and non-disabled people, no matter the type of disability or health condition”. 

That’s why we welcome the end of the long delay to the National Disability Strategy last week; a pledged plan from the Conservative government to tackle these barriers. However, while many proposals in the strategy are welcome, the speed and scale of action isn't proportionate to the enormity of what we need to tackle.  
For the past three years UnLtd has provided grant awards and specialist support to social entrepreneurs who are creating employment solutions, tackling the disability employment gap – the difference in employment rate between disabled and non-disabled people (28.8 per cent). We remain committed to backing disabled-led social ventures, redressing historical inequity in funding and support across the whole social enterprise sector. We have set a commitment that 50% of our Awards funding will go to social entrepreneurs who identify as Disabled and/or Black, Asian, or from a minority ethnic background.  

There are specific barriers to success for disabled-led social ventures that we know we can’t tackle alone, so we were pleased to see some of our recommendations turning into policies that could break these down.  

Specifically, the Strategy lays out a commitment for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to bring proposals later this year to support disabled people starting a business. However, it would have been better to see these proposals already prepared alongside the Strategy, rather than introducing further delays.  
We hope to see the substantial impact of disabled-led social enterprise recognised in any such work, with clear plans to improve access to advice, networks, grants and investment for disabled people wanting to start or scale-up a social venture.  

The Government is wise to do more to support disabled-led social ventures; evidence shows they will deliver both an economic return, and the social impact that's really needed. For example, a study by New Economics Foundation into five social ventures we worked with found they generated a total of £18.35m in social value and £1.45m in economic value in a single year; as well increases in confidence and wellbeing.  

It's clear that disabled-led social ventures have the standout expertise required to truly narrow the disability employment gap, so it's vital that government services get delivered by them. That’s why we’re also pleased to see the creation of a Disability Commissioning Taskforce that aims to specifically improve disability-led organisations’ access to the huge range of contracts for goods and services that the Government puts out to tender – something UnLtd and partners have long called for. 

Through our social entrepreneur support programmes, it became very clear that changing the status quo of employment is about a lot more than disabled people securing employment. Employment for disabled people needs to translate into quality jobs, across all professions in the UK, and in senior positions. We see a quality job as one which can pay a living wage, that offers recognised qualifications, improved well-being, and a sense of belonging at work.  
In her hopes for the National Disability Strategy, Jane Hatton, Director, at social enterprise Evenbreak, called for “mandatory reporting for all institutions and employers.” Likewise, we believe the government’s pledge to create a set of indicators to track the impact of their National Disability Strategy should include trends like retention and pay discrepancies, moving beyond looking at employment as a siloed statistic.  

Despite these government policies and some steps forward, we also have to step back and take a look at the whole. We asked social entrepreneurs leaders at Diversity & Ability, Evenbreak and Ability Today what they wanted to see in the strategy, and key themes were accountability mechanisms, an intersectional approach and a supportive clear benefits system. These views have shaped our response today and it must be noted that on these fronts a lot is still missing. 
As stated earlier, inequality indicators intersect and for disabled-led social ventures to succeed, and for the government to take disabled people’s rights seriously, there must also be recognition and accountability for their past failings in their future plans.  
In particular we can point to documented examples at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), such as determining that people are ‘fit for work’ who had terminal conditions, or were currently in hospital. As reported in the Guardian - “official data revealed that in an 18-month period 1,860 people in the UK died within six months of their claim for disability benefits being turned down”. There must be recourse to justice for these people, and many others who have faced discrimination from DWP.  

Likewise, the government's recognition that housing, transport and employment need to be tackled simultaneously across departments is a good start. However, they must also understand the importance of intersectionality; there is not one experience of disability. People's race, class, gender and sexuality lead to different experiences of social barriers, and different insights to truly dismantling them.  

We will now follow through with the government to ensure these proposed policy changes are put into practice, and encourage them to meaningfully engage disabled people in the stages that will now follow. 

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