By Russell Hargrave
A leading charity has warned that the government is in danger of excluding disabled people from a key area of economic policy.
Disability Rights UK, which campaigns for people living with impairments and health conditions, has sounded the alarm over a consultation on Britain's economic future.
"Despite disabled people being the largest demographic group not economically active, there is no reference to them or the steps that will specifically address their economic exclusion," Disabled Rights UK said in its response to a consultation on the government’s industrial strategy.
The omission is "potentially illegal" in light of the government's international obligations to protect disabled people, the response adds. It comes despite a promise by ministers to bring more than one million more people with disabilities into the workplace.
The government has promoted its industrial strategy as a way to strengthen Britain’s economy and skills as the country heads into Brexit.
Philip Connolly, policy and communications manager at Disabled Rights UK, told Politics.co.uk that "more disabled people would encounter negative attitudes and stigma in the labour market" if the government didn't amend its plans.
He added: "Fewer disabled people would become employed and more would suffer the poverty or destitution of being on benefits. They would be segregated and separated from their peers who are in jobs."
As the policy stands, the UK is "spending of tens of billions of pounds of public money with no reference to equalities, no reference to legal or international obligations for the UK government in respect of equalities, no reference to protected characteristics, no reference to disabled people as contributors in the economy".
In 2016 the government promised to halve the so-called 'disability employment gap', a move which would mean helping over a million more disabled people to find jobs. Currently just 49% of those who are disabled or have a health condition are in work, compared to 80% in the rest of the population, according to figures from Citizens Advice.
However, ministers have already been warned that they may not be able to honour this promise. In February a parliamentary committee told the government that it will "struggle to achieve its objective" unless it adopts "a more co-ordinated and strategic approach to working across departmental boundaries".
Although the disability employment gap has shrunk, the independent analysts Full Fact argue that this is happening too slowly to meet the government's pledge.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) declined to comment specifically on the outcome of the consultation, but business secretary Greg Clarke insisted that the industrial strategy "has an ambitious long-term vision for the UK that will build on our strengths as a country and deliver a high-skilled economy for the years ahead".
He added: "The industrial strategy white paper will put forward a plan that will boost earning power, spread prosperity and increase opportunities for all areas of the UK."