Autumn statement: Government refused to give disabled people right to work from home

The government ignored calls to give disabled people the right to work from home two years ago, openDemocracy can reveal.Chancellor Jeremy Hunt today announced that people who are unable to work because of mobility or mental health problems will be told to find remote jobs or could face losing their benefits.But disability groups and unions told openDemocracy that “there are nowhere near enough” remote jobs available – in part because the government previously refused advice that disabled people should be given a right to flexible working.openDemocracy could find only 748 jobs on the government’s own job vacancies website that mentioned remote work and were “Disability Confident”. Employers signed up to the government’s Disability Confident scheme agree to “inclusive and accessible recruitment” practices.

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In 2021, the government launched a consultation over its Flexible Working Act. Charities including Disability Rights UK have told openDemocracy that they advised the government that its proposals were too weak to help disabled people find remote work – but ministers did not listen.Just 5% of respondents said people should not have an automatic right to flexible working. The government ignored this guidance, ruling that employees should instead be given a right to request flexible working – but no guarantee that this request would be granted.In its response to the consultation, the government acknowledged that it received a survey, commissioned by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), with more than 5,500 responses suggesting “that the present approach makes it too easy for an employer to turn down a flexible working request”.TUC disability policy officer Quinn Roache told openDemocracy: “Ministers had the chance to change that and bring in a day one right to flexible working. But they chose not to.“This government has failed disabled workers. Despite what ministers are saying, there are nowhere near enough flexible working options that genuinely benefit disabled people and few people have the ability to work from home.“All workers should have the legal right to work flexibly from the first day in the job. And all job adverts should make clear what kind of flexibility is available.” Yesterday, the chief secretary to the Treasury, Laura Trott, said that those who can “should work” and that there was a “duty on citizens” to do so, when asked about the government’s plans to withhold benefits from disabled people who do not find remote jobs.Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, told openDemocracy that the government’s own research found that 61% of those claiming Employment and Support Allowance wanted to work, but that the majority were too unwell to do so. “People need social care to get up to be able to work, which has been slashed over the last 13 years. Even so-called Disability Confident employers don’t make the necessary adjustments needed to enable disabled people to work in many cases.Burnip said forcing disabled people to work under threat of losing their benefits would deprive them of their dignity.“The idea that if you’re incontinent you can continue with a Zoom meeting from home while sitting shitting or pissing yourself rather than going to the loo is just obscene. But that is what the government seems to be suggesting nevertheless,” she said.The Treasury and the Department of Work and Pensions have been approached for comment.

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