Disability Employment: Nothing Changed in Ten Years


It is now 10 years since my disability, serious mobility issues caused by multiple sclerosis, caused me to leave my last full-time employment.

For a few months, I hung onto the notion that there must be some role for me; one that could be done sitting in an office without too much moving about. Back then, there was no wheelchair in the equation, just a walking stick – or cane as my American wife prefers to call it.

Employment hunting was not easy, however, and it soon became clear that a pattern existed. And it was often carefully disguised as an equal opportunity (EO) policy. In short, although you could avoid mentioning your disability on the application, they discovered it on the EO form. Strangely, despite being well qualified and experienced, whenever an equal opportunities form was involved, I was never invited for an interview.

Then there were other companies without an EO form. There everything went fine until they asked those of us being interviewed to complete a medical questionnaire.  Then the shutters dropped and, suddenly, another candidate was better qualified. Really? Every time?

Frustrated, I explained the problem to my employment adviser at the local Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Jobcentre. She answered by suggesting I transferred to what was then called Incapacity Benefit, which I did.


Johnny Mercer MP speaking, Lisa Cameron MP, Philip Connolly of Disability Rights UK, and Lord Addington.

Fast forward 10 years and you could reasonably think that things would have changed, that it would have got better. But no, it seems to be the same.

The deplorable situation has been highlighted as part of a new report by the UK’s all-party parliamentary group for disability (APPGD) – which has cross-party support. The report said people with disabilities are facing “institutional disablism” at the hands of both public and private sector employers.

It suggests that the government needs to take a far tougher stance on dealing with employers that discriminate against disabled staff and would-be employees.

The Disability News Service said that the Ahead of the Arc report – which is supported by MPs and peers from seven political parties – calls on the government to drop its opposition to regulatory action that would force employers to take action.

The AAPGD report says: “It is time to consider abandoning a voluntary-only approach towards requiring employers to measure and to increase disability employment.”

Evidence suggests that the failure of public and private employers to provide appropriate support to disabled people in the workplace and to offer fair access to start-up funds, business advice and business networks amounts to “institutional disablism”, the report says.

It goes on to suggests that employers found to have discriminated against disabled people should face lesser penalties if they have “substantive” equality policies in place.

And it says the government needs “a tighter legal framework” to ensure that disabled employees are no longer “managed out of the workplace” by their employers, something that is happening to an estimated 35,000 to 48,000 disabled people every year.

Based purely on my own experience, I would say that “substantive equality policies” are not enough. They are worthless if not implemented. Implementation needs to be rigorously monitored and enforced with severe penalties for employers failing to deliver.

Anything less than that is a complete waste of time.


ian profile50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

Being defined by disability not by value

Just the other day, I was asked about the sort of reaction people get when their disability gets to the stage that they have to give up a work and then try to get employment that they could manage.

The question I was asked was: “Am I correct in thinking that many people who have to stop working due to their disability end up being defined by their illness rather than the value they can create elsewhere?”

Sadly, in my experience, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Thinking back to November 2006, my condition made it impossible for me to continue doing the job I had at the time. So I decided to seek alternative employment but came against a brick wall – all because I had already been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Not that I was turned down because of my disability. Perish the thought! That would have been illegal in the UK as it is in many countries. You see it would have broken the laws designed to protect those of us with disabilities; protect us from discrimination.

But that, of course, was never the stated reason.

In cases where I was not asked medical questions, I did not mention it. In one case I reached the final shortlist of three before the potential employer gave out medical questionnaires. Answering them all honestly resulted in me being told that one of the other candidates had been given the job.

equal-opportunityThen there were those companies where the personnel department sent out an ‘equal opportunities’ form to be completed and returned with the application form. Ostensibly this is because, they say, they want to ensure that they employ a cross-section of society – including people with disabilities. Strangely, or maybe not, those companies didn’t even offer me an interview.

I recounted this to the jobs adviser I was assigned at the local jobcentre, a part of what is now the Department of Work and Pensions. Her response was to tell me to apply for disability benefit, meaning that I no longer needed to look for work. And, of course, it meant the number of unemployed was reduced by one.

That’s my story and yet similar tales could be told many thousands of times as potential employers only pay lip service to anti-discrimination legislation. And by just being careful not to incriminate themselves they just waltz around the laws.

Well, it’s not quite the end of my story.  I have always fought against being defined by my disability  and now, thanks to Multiple Sclerosis News Today publishing my articles, I have reclaimed my value.


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