A few years ago, the then Chancellor asked the 2020 group of Conservative MPs a question to help his thinking. He asked us what an industrial stargey fit for purpose looked like. He was searching for a political narrative - intervention & prescription was decidedly unConservative, but getting out the way not the answer either. What was the overarching narrative he need for the challenges and opportunities of today’s economy?
He is now at the Standard and I am at DWP. Fundamentally my role is about enabling all the levers of the state, and all they can empower and support, to ensure that every one of our citizens can reach their full potential, and can strive to achieve their ambitions.
For some that will meaningful activity.
For many they will have a carer plan and want to be able to seize every opportunity that comes their way.
For some they will have a vision, on how to meet an unmet need, or a change they want to make to the world.
Whatever a person’s talents, whatever the drive and vision it is surely governments job to enable them to thrive. Yet so often that is not the case.
Does everyone with a learning disability have the vocational training, the independent living support and the opportunities they need to thrive, thought about and created for them to undertaken work or meaningful activity?
Do disabled people face a disincentives to take a promotion, a sabbatical or a role overseas because the admin involved in them taking a piece of assistive technology with them, or the volume of admin waiting on their return.
Do the most entrepreneurial group in society- for that is what disabled people are- who have the answers to so many problems face prejudice when trying to scale their ideas and businesses.
This agenda is wider than work, but let’s just focus on work for a moment.
On coming into office I very quickly saw that just to halve the disability employment gap- more disabled people into work that the government was expected to create jobs.
As we considered the issues in the health and work green paper, and other matters, it was clear: growth had to feature in our answers to deliver for those people.
In the last 10 months we have made some progress:
We have relaunched the Disability Confident (DC) scheme and now every Government is Disability confident, and gives preferred procurement status to other such employers.
We will strengthen this by using the social value act, encouraging bids from providers, who have a real focus on boosting employment, training and skills for disabled people as part of their bids. Public money can and must deliver the widest possible range of benefits wherever it is spent.
We are looking across central and local government to share examples of where procurement has successfully led to wider benefits for disabled people, and I’m committed to making this the way government does business by default, staring with DWPs own contracts. And the DC leaders group is championing disabled employment in each sector of the economy.
We have asked disabled entrepreneurs what they need to scale. What is holding them back? We will be working to remove those obstacles- starting with a major event this autumn.
And at the same time we will be bringing together complementary brands, to improve the quality of products the disabled consumer.
We have introduced sector champions- across 11 sectors of the economy, from retail to gaming, adverting to air travel, sport and leisure to banking, and more to enable business the recognise what it needs to do to serve all its potential customers, to maximise its share of the purple pound, to tackle inaccessibility and inequality of experience.
And we are working on other schemes to utilise technology to empower disabled consumers and better enforce the Equalities Act.
We will shortly launch a platform for those working in tech, to connect with each other around key issues and problems society needs to solve and opportunities it needs to seize.
We have the wonderful Global Disability Innovation Hub, a catalyst and a focal point for good design and creative ideas, a powerful resource to effect change here and overseas.
But we need to do more, and in a much for concerted and explicit way. The health and work green paper has helped. We will short be bringing forward measures to incentivise and support employers.
There is great work going on and great ideas out there, from our proposals on NIC holidays, to trials looking at business rate discounts for supportive employers who provide healthy and inclusive workplaces.
We will empower both the employer and employee, with more information and bespoke support, harnessing what each sector has to offer in one place.
We will enable more people to benefit from the transformational power of assistive technology.
It is a virtuous circle - disabled people and a diverse workforce bring huge insights and innovation. The most forward thinking organisations now activity seek out those with a disability because they know what they bring to their business, and their potential.
Like them we in government need to think differently about what we do, and how we enable others.
We have to transform how we deliver our own services.
We test and we learn. A lot. We pilot, and rightly so, but we must also match the reach of that emerging product or programme to the scale and demands of the unmet need. In the future employment support, or healthcare interventions, or the universal support wrapped around a person, must have the reach, sustainability, timeliness and flexibility required.
So alongside our programmes we must also have a new way to deliver them, maximising our own huge purchasing power, but also levering in the support of growth funding, and investment funds, grants and loans- in all sectors.
The potential beneficiaries and the markets such ventures might service are not just domestic ones. I am proud that the FCO and DfID are putting disability in the spotlight. The potential we as a nation have to make a difference to disabled peoples quality of life and opportunities in developing nations is considerable, whether it is our expertise or our technology:
To do so we must have the leadership, the route map and the training to enable everyone- whatever sector they sit in to contribute:
To carve out roles in their business.
To design their expansion, or their next venture, to meet the needs of this agenda.
To produce the products services and innovations society needs.
To give disabled people the opportunities so long denied them and recognise their exceptional talents and entrepreneurial skill.
To enable British research and development to maximise its commercial and trade opportunities.
The industrial strategy needs the practicality and the focus of sector deals, and if it doesn’t have one for disability it will be incomplete.
My answer to the former Chancellor is that we are all citizens and we all need to help. Over the last year we have been working with investors, social entrepreneurs, the third sector, business and civil servants to devise how we will do this. The opportunities of the industrial strategy and the ideas articulated by this paper are part of the possibility.
We are ready to move ahead to enable every part of our society to play its part, to empower and support, to ensure that every one of our citizens can reach their full potential. We must , because unless they do, our Nation never will.