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Stepping up: Bridging local disability
employment gaps

July 2014

About Shaw Trust

Shaw Trust is a leading national charity with
a thirty year history of supporting disabled,
disadvantaged and long term unemployed
people to achieve sustainable employment,
independence and social inclusion. Last year
Shaw Trust delivered specialist services to over
50,000 people from 200 locations across the UK,
supporting its beneficiaries to enter work and lead
independent lives. In 2012 Shaw Trust merged
with fellow employment services charity Careers
Development Group (CDG).
Shaw Trust is the largest voluntary sector provider
for the Department for Work and Pensions.
Through 16 prime contracts for Work Choice, the
specialist disability employment programme, Shaw
Trust has supported over 14,000 people with
severe disabilities, health problems or impairments
into employment since 2010. Our extensive
experience of supporting people into sustainable
employment also includes delivery of the Work
Programme and its predecessor contracts as both
a prime contractor and subcontractor.
Shaw Trust further supports people to gain skills
and progress into work through an expanding
network of local social enterprise projects known
as Shaw Trust Enterprises. In partnership
with local government and others, Shaw
Trust Enterprises offer unique stepping stone
employment opportunities at community-based
enterprises ranging from horticultural centres and
wood recycling plants to catering services and
community cafés.
Shaw Trust also delivers a number of learning
and skills contracts, operates 50 retail shops
nationwide and runs a national volunteering
programme. We are also an approved sponsor
for academies through Shaw Education Trust;
a multi-academy trust established to support
special schools and mainstream schools serving
disadvantaged communities.

Stepping up: Bridging local disability employment gaps, July 2014 2

Executive Summary

Less than half of people with a disability, health
problem or impairment are in work. Compared
to nearly eighty per cent of those without a
disability, this stubborn gap in employment
between disabled and non-disabled people
remains too large.
This is a familiar element of the disability
employment debate, but rightly so. Despite a
return to economic growth and rising overall
employment, in the past year the number
of disabled people in work has fallen.1
Wide variation between local areas illustrates
the urgent need for new local solutions to
complement national efforts to support more
people with disabilities, health problems and
impairments into work.
On a local enterprise partnership (LEP) level,
for example, only 27 per cent of disabled people
in the Cumbria LEP area are in work compared
to 52 per cent in the Buckinghamshire Thames
Valley LEP area – despite near-identical overall
employment rates.2 Even at the upper end of
this scale, the proportion of disabled people in
work is 25 per cent below the local average. If
these local ‘disability employment gaps’ could be
bridged, more than two million people currently
excluded from employment would have the
chance to gain independence and reach their
potential through work, generating huge social
and economic returns.
Through City Deals, the Single Local Growth
Fund and new EU funds, at least £15 billion
will be devolved to local economic areas
in the next parliament, including funding for
employment and skills. This represents a major
new opportunity for local areas to address
the wide variety of barriers to work faced by
people with disabilities, health problems and
impairments across the UK, promoting wide
social and economic benefits.

To successfully bridge local disability employment
gaps, LEPs and local government leaders must
take full advantage of new powers and funding.
Clear plans to improve the employment
prospects of people with disabilities, health
problems and impairments must be placed
at the heart of local economic strategies.
This report shows that local social enterprises
providing ‘stepping stone’ employment
opportunities have the potential to play a central
role in achieving this aim.

Bridging local disability employment gaps
The gap in employment rates between disabled
and non-disabled people remains too high across
the country. Yet the proportion of disabled
people in work varies widely between local
areas; from 24 per cent to 52 per cent on a
LEP level.3 To effectively bridge local disability
employment gaps, local barriers to work faced
by people with disabilities, health problems and
impairments must be accurately identified and
addressed with robust policies to break them
down.

1
The employment level of 16-64s classified as Equality Act core
disabled and/or work-limiting disabled fell from 3,471,308 in Q1
2013/14 to 3,442,363 in Q4. Source: ONS Labour Force Survey,
May 2014.

ONS Annual Population Survey, Jan-Dec 2012 (latest available
LEP-level data). Full data available at Annex A

2

3

Ibid

Stepping up: Bridging local disability employment gaps, July 2014 3

Executive Summary

The opportunity for local solutions
LEPs are preparing to access over £15 billion
of pooled central funds in the next parliament.
These new powers and funds available to local
economic areas represent a major opportunity
to remove barriers to work faced by people with
disabilities, health problems and impairments on
a local level. It is essential that local economic
areas take full advantage of this opportunity
to bridge local disability employment gaps; to
promote a more inclusive society and realise their
full economic potential.
Robust policies to improve outcomes for
people with disabilities, health problems and
impairments must therefore be a central feature
of new local economic strategies. New local
solutions must be closely aligned with existing
and future national specialist disability
employment support, which remains essential
as new local services are developed over time.

community wellbeing and the environment.4
There is a further opportunity for local enterprises
to be tailored to address local skills gaps and
meet the needs of local job markets.
A number of Shaw Trust Enterprises are
developing and implementing this stepping stone
approach across the UK, from Portsmouth to
Perth. Business activities range from gardening
and wood recycling to catering and community
cafés. The early signs are positive: at Shaw
Trust Enterprise Greater London, a wood
recycling centre in Bromley, sixty per cent
of trainees who have undertaken stepping
stone opportunity have since progressed into
mainstream employment.5
Through strong local partnerships with
local authorities, employers and others, social
enterprises can make a significant contribution
to bridging local disability employment gaps,
promoting community wellbeing and driving local
economic growth and prosperity.

Bridging local disability employment gaps:
Shaw Trust Enterprises

Shaw Trust Enterprise Catering

Community-based social enterprises have the
potential to play a significant role in bridging
local disability employment gaps, through the
provision of unique ‘stepping stone’ employment
opportunities. This integrated approach –
currently being rolled out across an expanding
network of local Shaw Trust Enterprises –
uniquely combines work placements, skills
training and personalised employability
support to progress individuals facing serious
barriers to work into sustained mainstream
employment.
In this way a range of interlinking objectives can
be realised. Research has shown that this model
can successfully achieve not only sustainable
employment outcomes in the mainstream
labour market, but also improve participants’
confidence and social skills, reduce
recidivism for ex-prisoners, and improve

Shaw Trust Enterprise Clamp Hill
Shaw Trust Enterprise Greater London
Shaw Trust Enterprise Hampshire
Shaw Trust Enterprise Lowestoft
Shaw Trust Enterprise North East
Westbank Enterprises Perth
Shaw Trust Industries Doncaster

Nockolds, D (2012), Exploring success for intermediate labour
market social enterprises: a literature review, Brotherhood of St
Laurence, pp.5-6

4

Out of 28 paid trainees in the past year, 17 have since
progressed to mainstream employment

5

Stepping up: Bridging local disability employment gaps, July 2014 4

Recommendations for action
The potential benefits to be gained by
bridging local disability employment gaps are
substantial and wide-ranging: from creating
a more inclusive society where everyone has
a chance to gain independence and reach
their potential through work, to realising huge
financial savings and boosting local economic
growth.
But the opportunity for change must be seized
with clear plans at the heart of local economic
strategies aimed at improving outcomes for
people with disabilities, health problems and
impairments.
1. Local authorities and LEPs should carry
out comprehensive local disability needs
analyses to identify local barriers to work
faced by people with disabilities, health
problems and impairments, in order to
underpin actions to break them down.
2. LEPs and local authorities should take
full advantage of newly devolved powers
and funding by placing robust policies for
bridging local disability employment gaps
at the heart of their economic strategies.
This will be essential to ensure fulfilment of
the public sector equality duty, as required by
the Equality Act 2010.

3. The design of new local solutions to bridge
disability employment gaps must involve
clear steps to integrate and align local and
national provision, including joint working
between agencies and co-design of
services where appropriate.
4. Wide access to community-based
stepping stone employment opportunities
should be a central feature of local efforts to
support more people with disabilities, health
problems and impairments into work.
5. Public, private and voluntary sector
organisations should commit to the further
testing and evaluation of new approaches
to bridge the disability employment gap, to
build the evidence base on ‘what works’.
The wide range of barriers to work faced
by people with disabilities, health problems
and impairments across the UK illustrates
the urgent need for new local solutions to
complement national provision. There is now
a major opportunity – and clear social and
economic imperatives – for local economic
areas to step up to this challenge.

Stepping up: Bridging local disability employment gaps, July 2014 5

Chapter 1 Introduction

Employment opportunities for people with
disabilities, health problems and impairments
remain too limited. Less than half of people with
a disability in the UK are in work, compared to 79
per cent of non-disabled people: a stubborn gap
of over thirty per cent.6 We know a substantial
proportion of those out of work do want a job,
but are currently deprived of the opportunity to
gain independence, empowerment and inclusion
through employment. Our economy and society
is further deprived of this significant potential
contribution.
The environment in which improved outcomes for
people furthest from the labour market are sought
is fast changing. This report argues that there
now exists a major opportunity for local areas
to exploit new powers and funds to bridge
disability employment gaps locally, including
through new ‘stepping stone’ employment
opportunities rooted in local communities.
Chapter two shows that disability employment
rates vary widely across the country on a local
enterprise partnership level, suggesting a broad
range of local barriers faced by people with
disabilities, health problems and impairments
across the country. Clearly, local solutions are
needed to complement national efforts to
address barriers to work.
Chapter three argues that there is now a major
opportunity to identify and break down local
barriers through newly devolved powers and
funding. Whilst £223 million has so far been
devolved through City Deals, in the next
parliament the major parties have pledged
at least £15 billion to local economic areas
through new combined funding pots. Crucially,
this will include funds for employment and
skills related provision. There is therefore clear
potential for local areas to make significant
progress in bridging disability employment gaps.

This opportunity must be grasped with robust
policies at the heart of local economic
strategies, which effectively complement
national provision. Chapter four presents a new
model of community-based stepping stone
support, exemplified by a new network of local
Shaw Trust Enterprises, with the potential to
play a central role in achieving this aim. With
local authorities and local enterprise partnerships
set to receive substantial new funds and powers
within months – contingent upon demonstrating
clear plans to improve local outcomes – the time
to act is now.
This report builds on Shaw Trust’s major
2013 research project Making Work a Real
Choice, (MWaRC) which laid out the case for
improving specialist employment support for
people with disabilities, health problems and
impairments.7 Since Shaw Trust published
MWaRC, the Government has committed to
maintaining and enhancing a distinct national
specialist programme of personalised support
for people with disabilities, health problems
and impairments, and introducing a new needs
assessment to better target provision; two key
recommendations from the final report.
Getting the detail of these proposals right in
the coming months will be crucial.8 This report
represents a further contribution to the debate,
at a time when all the major parties – and newly
empowered local economic areas – are seeking
new ways to improve the employment prospects
of people with disabilities, health problems and
impairments across the UK.

6

ONS Labour Force Survey, May 2014, Table A08

7
Shaw Trust (2013), Making Work a Real Choice: Where next
for specialist disability employment support?, final report

Shaw Trust’s response to DWP’s Disability and Health
Employment Strategy discussion paper is available at
http://bit.ly/1qDVu9g

8

Stepping up: Bridging local disability employment gaps, July 2014 6

Chapter 2 The local challenge: bridging disability employment gaps

People with disabilities, health problems
and impairments are not sharing in the
economic recovery.

There are wide local variations in disability
employment rates
For this report Shaw Trust analysed the
employment rate of people with disabilities or
health problems on a local enterprise partnership
(LEP) level – new partnerships between local
government and businesses assuming increasing
influence over employment, skills and other
growth-related policies. Figure A on the next
page illustrates these findings, showing the
disability employment rate of England’s 39 LEPs
alongside the devolved nations of Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland,14 grouped into
seven colour-coded bands. Full data is available
in Annex A.

As the UK economy has returned to growth the
number of people in work increased by 722,000
in the year to March 2014.9 Yet people with
disabilities or health problems have not shared
in this upturn. In fact, whilst the overall workforce
grew substantially in the past year, the number
of people with disabilities or health problems
in work has decreased by nearly 29,000.10
During this period the disability employment
gap – the gap in employment rates between
disabled and non-disabled people – widened by
a percentage point.11
Long-term unemployment amongst people with
disabilities or health problems has also
continued to rise. The number who have been
claiming Employment Support Allowance in
the work-related activity group for 12 months
or longer almost doubled in the year to August
2013, to nearly 350,000.12 A recent analysis
by Inclusion found that disabled people remain
“more likely to be long-term unemployed than
their non-disabled peers”, with “substantially
fewer unemployed for less than three months
and more at the top end of the scale”.13
9

ONS Labour Force Survey, May 2014

ONS Labour Force Survey, May 2014, Table A08. The
employment level of 16-64s classified as Equality Act core disabled
and/or work-limiting disabled fell from 3,471,308 in Q1 2013/14 to
3,442,363 in Q4

10

Ibid. The ‘gap’ in employment rates between 16-64s classified as
Equality Act core disabled and/or work-limiting disabled and those
not classified as such increased from 31 per cent in Q1 2013/14 to
32 per cent in Q4

11

Benefit claimants - employment and support allowance (WRAG
phase), retrieved from Nomis in May 2014. Number claiming for one
year or more increased from 185,500 in August 2012 to 347,060 in
August 2013 (latest available data), an 87 per cent rise.

12

Purvis A, et al (July 2014), Fit for Purpose: Transforming
employment support for disabled people and those with health
conditions, Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion

13

Source: ONS Annual Population Survey, Jan-Dec 2012 (latest
available data). Full data available at Annex A

14

Stepping up: Bridging local disability employment gaps, July 2014 7

Chapter 2 The local challenge: bridging disability employment gaps
Figure A: Disability employment rates by local enterprise partnership area
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
21.
22.
23.
24.
25.
26.
27.
28.
29.
30.
31.
32.
33.
34.
35.
36.
37.
38.
39.
40.
41.
42.

Black Country LEP
Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP
Cheshire and Warrington LEP
Coast to Capital LEP
Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly LEP
Coventry and Warwickshire LEP
Cumbria LEP
Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire LEP
Dorset LEP
Enterprise M3 LEP
Gloucestershire LEP
Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP
Greater Cambridge and Peterborough LEP
Greater Lincolnshire LEP
Greater Manchester LEP
Heart of the South West LEP
Hertfordshire LEP
Humber LEP
Lancashire LEP
Leeds City Region LEP
Leicester and Leicestershire LEP
Liverpool City Region LEP
London LEP
New Anglia LEP
North Eastern LEP
Northamptonshire LEP
Oxfordshire LEP
Sheffield City Region LEP
Solent LEP
South East LEP
South East Midlands LEP
Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP
Swindon and Wiltshire LEP
Tees Valley LEP
Thames Valley Berkshire LEP
The Marches LEP
West of England LEP
Worcestershire LEP
York and North Yorkshire LEP
40
Northern Ireland*
Wales*
Scotland*

Key: Disability
employment rate (%)
20 to 25
26 to 30
31 to 35
36 to 40
41 to 45
46 to 50
51 to 55

42

25
7

34

39

19

18

20
15

22

28

3

14

8
32
12

36

21

1

41

11
37

16

26

6

38

33

31

27

2

17

23

35

10
29

9

24
13

30
4

5

*National-level data has been used for
Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland

Source: ONS Annual Population Survey, Jan-Dec 2012. Full data available in Annex A

Stepping up: Bridging local disability employment gaps, July 2014

8

However there are also wide variations within
regions. For example in the West Midlands, the
disability employment rate ranges from 29 per
cent in the Black Country LEP area to 42 per cent
for Worcestershire LEP. In the South East it also
ranges by 14 per cent, and in the North West by
10 per cent.

The map at Figure A shows wide variations
between LEP areas. By the most recent data
available on an LEP level, the UK average
disability employment rate is 33 per cent,
compared to 71 per cent for the population at
large.15 However, on an LEP level the rate ranges
from 24 per cent in the Liverpool City Region LEP
area to 52 per cent for Buckinghamshire Thames
Valley LEP and Hertfordshire LEP.16

Figure B shows a selection of LEPs with an
overall employment rate of 75 to 78 per cent.
However, their disability employment rates range
from 27 per cent in Cumbria LEP area to 52 per
cent in Hertfordshire. It also shows, for example,
that whilst Oxfordshire LEP area has a higher
overall employment rate than neighbouring
Buckinghamshire LEP, its disability employment
rate is 12 percentage points lower.

There are also some strong regional trends.
A concentration of LEP areas in the lower
range, where only 20-30 per cent of people with
disabilities are in work, are located in the North
West (Liverpool; Cumbria; Greater Manchester),
and the North East (Tees Valley; North Eastern).
Sheffield City Region LEP and the Black Country
LEP, as well as Northern Ireland and Wales, also
fall into this lower band. Scotland displays a rate
just above, at 31 per cent. LEPs in the East and
South East of England generally display higher
disability employment rates in the 40-50 per cent
range.

Clearly, variations in local disability employment
rates cannot be easily explained by variations in
overall labour market participation. Other local
factors are at work.

Figure B: LEP disability employment rates:
sample selection

Disability employment rate
Overall employment rate

80
70
60

75

75

77

77

78

75

50

52

40
30
20

77

27

34

39

40

52

44

10
0

Cumbria LEP

Cheshire and
Warrington LEP

Dorset LEP

Oxfordshire
LEP

Enterprise
M3 LEP

Buckinghamshire Hertfordshire
Thames Valley
LEP
LEP

ONS Annual Population Survey, Jan-Dec 2012 (latest available data).
16-64s classified as DDA disabled, work-limiting disabled, or both.

15

16

For full data on LEP-level disability employment rates, see Annex A.

Stepping up: Bridging local disability employment gaps, July 2014

9


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