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30/04/18 14:22

First Minister's speech at Congress on Disability, Employability and the Workplace

Improving the lives of disabled Scots

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Congress on Disability, Employment and the Workplace

30 April, 2018


Thank you Graeme, before I start I’d just like to take this opportunity to say happy birthday. I’m delighted to welcome you all to this Congress. It’s fantastic to see so many people gathered here today, to discuss this important issue and to address it as a country.

Today’s event focusses on the themes of disability, employment and the workplace. So this morning I want to talk about the importance of creating more employment opportunities for disabled people.  I’ll speak about the steps we’re taking to support disabled people into employment.  And finally I’ll talk about our ambitions for the future,  and the role that all of us – across society – have to play in meeting those ambitions.

But first, I want to highlight a very basic point.

Scotland’s commitment to equality – and to fairness – is a essential part of our country’s modern identity. It’s also central to everything that we seek to do as a government.  We are determined to build a society where everyone has equal opportunities – to contribute, participate and succeed.

A major aspect of that – and a priority for us – is to improve the lives and protect the rights of disabled people.  So over the past ten years, we’ve already taken significant action.

For example, we’ve implemented self-directed support across our social care system – giving disabled people, their carers, and their families more choice and control over their own lives.

We’ve established an Independent Living Fund, to replace the one shut down by the UK Government.

Working with disabled people’s organisations, we’ve also created an Accessible Travel Framework – which sets out how we will seek to improve the experience of travelling for disabled people.

And we’ve identified and mitigated many of the worst impacts of the UK Government’s welfare reforms – like the bedroom tax.

These are just a few examples of the work already done. Taken together, they’ve made a real difference to disabled people, across the country.  And our efforts in Scotland have been recognised by the UN.

For all that progress and activity there is no doubt in my mind, that we still have a lot more to do – to ensure equal rights and opportunities for disabled people across country.

Supporting Disabled People

One of the areas where inequality is most persistent is in employment.

At this point I would like to say that there are of course huge numbers of disabled people working all across Scotland – achieving fantastic things. However, the employment rate for disabled people stands at just around 43%.  That compares to around 80% for the rest of the population. 

That tells us the scale of the challenge. Now, for some disabled people, work is not a possibility. for some its not a desirable option. But we know that far too many disabled people lack both the opportunities – and the support that they need – to get into employment. We need to reflect that lack of opportunity.

As a result, they are unable to fulfil their true potential. And they miss out on the benefits of work – in terms of income, self-esteem and independence that the rest of us simply take for granted.

That is simply unacceptable, we must give everyone the opportunity. That’s why the Scottish Government is committed to reducing the gap in employment rates between disabled and non-disabled people – by more than half. 

Now its important to recognise, and be franking about, achieving that won’t be easy. But there is no excuse.  Some of things we’re doing will make a real difference.

For example, we’ve significantly improved access to Modern Apprenticeships.

We’ve provided funding for an internship programme run by Inclusion Scotland.

Our Access to Elected Office Fund helps disabled candidates to run for public office. I’m delighted that we’re joined today by Helga Stevens – a Flemish MEP – who will be sharing her experiences as a disabled person in politics. We are delighted to have Helga with us today.

And perhaps most importantly of all, Fair Start Scotland – our new devolved employment service – launched earlier this month.

It’s designed to ensure that – rather than being threatened with sanctions – disabled people are empowered and supported into work.  That means that specialist services  - like supported employment and individual placement and support – are made available to those who need it.

Changing perceptions and closing the employment gap


Helping disabled people to seize new opportunities is hugely important. But it’s only one part of the equation.  The reality is that most of the barriers that disabled people face are a product of other people’s attitudes, not an inherent part of that person, instead it is a reflection on society.

As a society, we tend to focus far too much on what disabled people can’t do rather than what disabled people can do.  That can lead to a certain bias – whether conscious or unconscious – against hiring disabled people.  It can also damage the confidence of disabled people who are seeking employment – even those who are already in work.

It’s vital that we tackle these damaging attitudes. That’s why we’re focussed on highlighting the benefits of recruiting more disabled people. 

Those benefits are clear and significant. Disabled people have talents and skills that are underused, and are just waiting to be harnessed.  Hiring more disabled people will help to make your organisation’s staff more representative of the public – and also for your customer base, which is very important.  And it will send a very clear message about the kind of organisation – and the kind of employer – that you want to be.

Now, one of the key messages we’ve heard in recent months is that employers need a single source of advice on recruiting and retaining disabled staff.

That’s why today, we’re announcing that we will be allocate up to £1 million for business engagement. That money will be used to ensure that businesses – particularly small and medium enterprises – have the help and guidance that they need.  And in the coming months, we will be working with employers, disabled people’s organisations and other key stakeholders to ensure the funding is targeted as effectively as possible.

The private sector clearly has a big and vital role to play, it encouraging that so many are represented here. But we recognise that on this issue, government and the public sector have to take the lead. 

We have responsibility to lead by example that’s why today, we are also launching a consultation on increasing disabled employment in the public sector.    As part of that, we’ll be holding consultation events across the country.   We want to hear the views of disabled people, their organisations and public sector organisations – on the current situation, what more we should do, and what – if any –  targets we should set.

The outcomes of the consultation will inform a Disability Employment Action Plan – which we will publish in the Autumn. The Plan will list a range of measures – in addition to the two I’ve announced today – which will help us to tackle the disability employment gap.  And it will set out the need for coordinated action across the whole of government – and the indeed across the whole of society. 


Whether we’re disabled or not disabled, whether we work in government or in the public, private or third sector – each and every one of us have a role to play here.

The target we’ve set is hugely challenging. It will require a transformation in the way our society thinks about disability and employment.  And that won’t happen overnight.

But I do strongly believe that by working together – with a clear goal – we can significantly improve opportunities and support for disabled people. In doing that, we can ensure that more and more disabled people can contribute to – and benefit from – our country’s success.  And in doing all of that we can help to make Scotland a fairer, more prosperous society.

I hope this event helps us – even in a small way - to get closer to that goal.  So I wish you all well for the rest of today’s event.  And I look forward to working with all of you in the months and years ahead.