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Disabled People


The 2011 census figures show that 523,000 (or 15% of) working age people in Scotland have a long-term activity-limiting health problem or disability. Economic activity rates are typically much lower than non-disabled people - Annual Population Survey data for 2012 shows that 46% of working age disabled people are in work, compared with 80% of non disabled people of working age. However, there are variations according to type of impairment. For example:

  • Disabled people with mental health problems have the lowest employment rates of all impairment categories at only 21%. 
  • The employment rate for people with learning disabilities is 26%.

Barriers Faced

Many disabled people say they are available for work and want to work, but face significant barriers, including:

  • Lack of or low qualifications. Disabled people are more than twice as likely as non-disabled people to have no qualifications (26% as opposed to 10%).
  • Poor health, restricting their ability to work. Many disabled people have poor general health alongside their specific disability.
  • Perception that work will lead to worsened their health.
  • Lack of confidence.
  • Difficulties relating to transport.
  • Employer attitudes/discrimination. 

Policies and Interventions

In 2010, the Scottish Government published 'A Working Life for all Disabled People: The Supported Employment Framework for Scotland', which set out the government's commitment to a more consistent, person-centred approach to supporting disabled people who want to work. The Framework lists the actions to be undertaken to raise awareness of the supported employment model and enable more people in Scotland to take advantage of this type of support.

The Scottish Government's refreshed Employability Framework for Scotland, 'Working for Growth' also acknowledges the importance of raising the employment rates of disabled people and highlights the need to improve the quality, variety and availability of employability support for disabled people. It also encourages the continuation of activities to promote the recruitment and retention of disabled workers in public bodies and suggests that this should be supplemented by awareness raising around the benefits of a diverse workforce.

Employment support for disabled people mainly lies with Jobcentre Plus and with Work Programme providers. Disability Employment Advisers in Jobcentre Plus help clients to find work or to gain new skills and also provide information about disability friendly employers within their local area. They may also refer clients to a specialist work psychologist, where appropriate, or carry out an 'employment assessment'. Work Programme providers are awarded incentives for helping individuals who are furthest removed from the labour market into work, including disabled people.

Other interventions to help disabled people into work include:

  • Access to Work, programme which provides money towards a support worker or for the cost of equipment or travelling to work. A number of disabled people in employment have said they would not have been in employment without the help of Access to Work.
  • Work Choice. Support under this scheme may include training and skills development, confidence building and interview coaching.
  • Supported Employment, where disabled people work with support from colleagues and a job coach.
  • Residential training courses which cover a range of areas, such as adapting to impairment (independent living skills) and vocational courses.
  • Raising awareness of the benefits of a diverse workforce. 

'Place and train' approaches (such as supported employment) are considered to be more effective than approaches that try to upgrade an individual's skills before placing them in employment.

The Equality Act

The Equality Act (2010) is the main piece of legislation that addresses discrimination and inequality in the UK. It brought together nine separate pieces of legislation into one. The majority of the provisions came into force on 1 October 2010. The following are the characteristics which are protected under the Equality Act (2010):

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

The law prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination relating to any of these characteristics and individuals who feel they have been discriminated against on any of the above grounds can bring an action in court against the perpetrator. The law also prohibits victimisation of persons who have brought action against a perpetrator or given evidence in connection with proceedings under the Act. 

The Act prohibits discrimination across a broad range of areas including employment, the provision of goods and services to the public and the exercise of public functions. In addition a Public Sector Equality Duty came into force in April 2011. It assigned public bodies (and others discharging public functions, such as third sector organisations) the following duties:

  • Eliminating unlawful discrimination.
  • Advancing equality of opportunity. 
  • Fostering good relations.

Specific duties within the Act require fit-for-purpose equality monitoring to be undertaken, at both national and local levels. As a result, a number of listed public authorities in Scotland are now required to publish a set of equality outcomes and to report on progress every two years. The specific duties also require the listed public authorities to undertake Equality Impact Assessment of new or revised policies and practices and to consider relevant evidence when making their assessments. 


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