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LEP spearheads disability employment campaign
The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is to spearhead a national campaign to create better work opportunities for people with disabilities and long term health conditions.
The LEP is working with the business community, local agencies and the Government’s Strategic Work and Health Joint Unit (WHU) to develop a model that can be applied to other parts of the UK.
It follows a Government-funded research project carried out by the LEP and the University of Exeter last year which found that many businesses are unsure about hiring people with disabilities or long term health conditions.
In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly there are almost 50,000 working age people whose day-to-day activities are limited by a long term illness or disability. This is over 15% of the working age population, and above the national average.
But less than five out of 10 disabled people have a job, compared with eight out of 10 non-disabled people.
Now the LEP is to lead a project to engage and support local employers by bringing together key partners and championing action.
As well as overcoming barriers to work, the LEP will examine workplace health and how people can be supported to remain in work.
The WHU and Government have pledged to work closely with the LEP as a ‘beacon’ area and to share findings with other LEPs across England and encourage them to take on a similar local leadership role.
The project follows a recent conference in Truro organised by the LEP, Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and Truro & Falmouth MP Sarah Newton, recently appointed Minister of State for Disabled People, Work and Health.
LEP Chairman Mark Duddridge said:
“This is Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly leading the way to tackle a massive
employment gap in our society when it comes to people with disabilities and
long term heath conditions.
“Cornwall responded brilliantly to last year’s Green Paper on this issue and advised Government on practical things to get more people who are economically inactive back into work, and help them stay there. This is why we have been encouraged to lead on this issue as a beacon area in the UK. The availability of labour and skills is a key barrier at the moment to economic growth and there is a significant untapped pool of resource.”
St Ives MP Derek Thomas, who addressed the Truro conference on behalf of Sarah Newton, said: “The Disability Minister is a massive fan of what’s going on here and the work that we are doing to drive forward opportunities in Cornwall. She sees Cornwall as a great example of the commitment to inclusivity and opportunity and this is why we are regarded as the beacon. Let’s make Cornwall the start of something good when it comes to creating opportunity for everyone, whoever they may be and whatever challenge they may have.”
Angus Gray, Deputy Director, Work and Health Policy at the Department for Work and Pensions, also attended the Truro conference. He said: “There’s a lot of fear and lack of understanding amongst employers about what the possible pros and cons of employing disabled people can be. My overall message is talk to people that have employed disabled people, because there really is much less to fear than you assume. So please get involved, get engaged and get enthused about this agenda.”
Mel Cotton-Dyer, Chief Operating Officer at Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, said: “Having a more diverse workforce and giving opportunities benefits the business community, so we are going to be working with the LEP to map out what support there is and collaborating with our colleagues to make sure businesses really understand the benefits that they can get from having a more inclusive workforce.”
Gordon Seabright, Chief Executive at the Eden Project, added: “It’s an enormous waste of human potential if we don’t crack this problem and treat everybody the same. I think there is a lot of concern out there because people just aren’t familiar with the issues that they might face in hiring people with different abilities, but as soon as you start doing that those worries fall away so quickly. So one of the things we can do is think about using Cornwall as a test bed.”