Should companies have to declare how many of their workers have disabilities?

PUBLISHED: 15:25 28 November 2018 | UPDATED: 15:25 28 November 2018

Members of Norfolk Industries for Disabled People take a tour around Orchard Toys in Wymondham, for which they are contract packers. 

Members of Norfolk Industries for Disabled People take a tour around Orchard Toys in Wymondham, for which they are contract packers. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

Proposals for large companies to publicly declare how many people they employ with disabilities have been met with a cool response by Norfolk employers.

Government minister Sarah Newton has urged companies to sign up to a voluntary scheme in a bid to create more inclusive workforces, given that around one-fifth of the working-age population lives with a disability of a health condition.

The framework would also call on businesses to explain how they are currently supporting their disabled employees.

At Norfolk Industries, part of the community interest company Independence Matters, half of the eight-strong team have disabilities, and it has 18 people with disabilities on assorted work placements.

General manager Sharon Tooke questioned whether there may be unintended consequences from the government’s proposals.

“My concern would be how it was administered in the business. There could be people working there quite happily with hidden disabilities or medical conditions who might prefer not to disclose them,” she said.

“Sometimes people say to us that they are not confident in disclosing a disability or condition because they feel they will be discriminated against.”

Mrs Tooke said a more effective measure would be to emphasise the positive impact employees with disabilities could have on a business, as many firms were “under pressure on productivity”.

“If people say they have a disability, it’s immediately seen that it could be a problem or disadvantage rather than looking at what strengths that disability lends to that individual. We look at the disability and talk about what the person can do rather than what they can’t.”

Mrs Tooke highlighted the work Norfolk Industries had done as a contract packer for Wymondham-based Orchard Toys, which involved boxing up the company’s products.

“That’s specifically lending itself to the strengths of those people with Asperger’s and autism because they can only do something correctly,” she said.

“They do that step over and over and over again. We’ve done 125,000 units for Orchard Toys and they have never found a rejected box because they are all done the exact same way.”

Ms Newton, the minister for disabled people, health and work, said: “Our voluntary reporting framework builds on our long-standing commitment to companies to help them in supporting their staff at all levels to create more inclusive workforces as we set out to achieve our ambition of one million more people in work by 2027.”

The latest employment figures show that more than half of disabled people are now in work, with almost a million more disabled people in the workplace over the last five years.

Access to Work schemes pay for support to ensure someone’s condition does not hold them back, and can provide funding of up to £57,200 a year.

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