Jam tomorrow - employment implications of UK's national disability strategy

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The UK government has published its national disability strategy, which is designed to help reduce the disability employment gap and ensure that disability is not a barrier to someone’s ability to reach their full potential. Proposals that are likely to be of particular interest to employers include consultations on disability reporting and making flexible working the default and a renewed commitment to introducing unpaid carers’ leave.

What happened

The Conservative Party's 2019 election manifesto committed to publishing a national strategy for disabled people, aimed at improving opportunities and access in housing, education, transport and jobs. Earlier today the government published its strategy.

One of the strategy’s objectives is to reduce the disability employment gap, which currently stands at more than 28% when the employment rate of working age disabled people is compared with that of working age non-disabled people. The government is proposing the following steps that are relevant to employers:

  • A consultation on making disability reporting mandatory for employers with 250 or more employees, alongside steps to raise awareness of and encourage voluntary reporting under the Department for Work and Pensions voluntary reporting framework;
  • Improving the Access to Work service, including making it easier for tailored specialist support to follow an individual when they change jobs;
  • A consultation on making flexible working the default unless employers have a good reason not to, to help employees, including those with disabilities, to work flexibly if they want to; and
  • The introduction of one week’s unpaid carers’ leave to enable unpaid carers to balance their caring responsibilities with paid employment.

Making flexible working the default and introducing unpaid carers’ leave are not new commitments. They were originally announced in the 2019 Queen’s Speech but the promised Employment Bill was not in fact introduced.

Next steps

The consultation exercises on disability reporting and flexible working will begin by the end of 2021 and BEIS will set out the next steps for progressing the introduction of carers’ leave within the same timescale.

The government has said that an Employment Bill will be forthcoming when parliamentary time allows. Assuming that it is still intending to introduce changes to the right to request flexible working and carers’ leave through the Bill, it seems unlikely that any reforms will come into force soon.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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