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Government spending cuts have made it more difficult for disabled workers to remain in employment, new research suggests.

The study by Rupert Harwood found that whilst disability adjustments in the workplaces had enabled local authorities to recruit and retain valuable staff, good adjustments-related practice is deteriorating under the impact of government spending cuts.

Management and other interviewees reported that the cuts had led to fewer adjustments, having to fight harder to get adjustments agreed, and delays in their implementation.

As well as leaving local authorities with less money to fund adjustments, cuts were also having more indirect impacts. For example, to make savings, some local authorities had reduced line manager disability training, were winding-down equality committees, or had discontinued annual staff equality surveys.

There also appeared to be a general hardening of attitudes towards disability. Of particular concern, there were indications that ‘benefit cheat’ narratives could be spilling-over into the workplace and encouraging some managers to question the honesty of adjustment requests.

Cuts driven deterioration in adjustments-related practice had in turn put disabled workers at increased risk of being among the thousands of workers being made redundant in the public sector.

It seemed, for example, that there was sometimes a reluctance to make the adjustments that would have facilitated the redeployment to alternative posts of disabled workers selected for redundancy.

Gail Ward from the campaign group Grassroots Welfare told Welfare Weekly: “The government claims it is supporting disabled people back into work.

“But slashing local authority budgets, which helps to fund reasonable adjustments in the workplace for disabled workers, is a disgrace.

“This should be standard good practice across all local authorities, organisations and businesses in UK. However, this report suggests this isn’t happening.

“Disabled people have a lot to offer employers, but with many also having their vehicles removed under the government’s disability benefit reforms, sadly many have had to give up their jobs because they cannot use public transport.”

The impact of spending cuts on disability adjustments could be far worse, if not for the result of continued (albeit diminished) organisational commitment to legal compliance.

As well as the Equality Act’s Reasonable Adjustments Duty, other legal protections (including under unfair dismissal and health and safety law) had encouraged adjustments. A health and safety impact assessment, for example, had led to one interviewee being provided with an adapted desk.

The Coalition government, however, has been cutting these other legal protections; as well as weakening enforcement with the introduction of employment tribunal fees for claimants.

In addition, whilst the Reasonable Adjustments Duty itself is required under European Union law, David Cameron has indicated an interest in ‘repatriating’ employment laws back to the UK.

The report’s author highlighted how individuals, unions, and campaign groups are fighting hard to defend disability rights and to bring forward the day when progress towards a more equal society can be resumed.

The study was conducted between 2011 and 2013. It included 75 semi-structured interviews with disabled workers group members, union representatives, managers, and councillors, from 34 British local authorities; and collecting around 400 documents from these organisations.

Source: Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) – Published here under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

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