• Philip J Connolly

Disability Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution began here in the UK; ahead of the budget the Disability Resilience Network offers the Chancellor a plan to make sure the Disability industrial revolution happens here as well.


Disabled people are an under-utilised, talent pool. There are 3.7 million economically inactive disabled people legally resident here in the UK. Many wish to work and could do so with the right support and societal attitudes.


Their individual needs offer insight into individual choices. Delivering these choices could disrupt existing established markets and force markets to become customised or more responsive to the needs of the aging population. Responsive to need is key. Indeed as van Hippel showed many consumers have already been adapting products and services for their individual needs, even after they have paid for them. Disabled people for similar reasons are already driving this trend in innovation. When you cannot do things in ways that others take for granted you have to be resourceful and a problem solver. It’s not a surprise therefore that many of the leading inventors such as Newton, Edison, Einstein and so on were people with disabilities.


Finding adaptation to the generic goods or services out there or finding a coping strategy in response to indifference or worse results in high levels of individual resilience. A quality in demand and at all levels of society in the present turbulent times. Local authorities are required to develop resilience strategies against some 22 identified risks. The whole of the business community has its own risks to contend with such as the constant threat of innovation by its competitors. The Chancellor too has to find demonstrable resilience to satisfy foreign investors in every budget he sets. Then there is the pandemic. Everyone now has to find their own resilience strategy.


The budget of March 3rd will need to offer more resilience than previous budgets. It is likely to look beyond the mass vaccination programme to the recovery and to give more detail on what levelling up means. The disability sector needs to press for a full public inquiry but it also needs to grab the ball and run for the try line. It needs to ground the ball on a level playing field.

Resetting the economy offers a big prize. The disability movement has I think never had an industrial strategy but here is my starter for the budget. No prizes for guessing what’s first. Now is not the time to end the £20 per week uplift to universal credit. Further, on the basis of the Government’s own commitment to levelling up it should commit to parity in entitlement between those on the legacy health related benefits and those now on universal credit. However ending exclusion is not the same as creating inclusion. Legislation can prohibit your exclusion but policy may still not include you. An inclusive economy is key hence the campaign I recently launched focused on jobs.


The Government itself is already involved in job creation. These approaches and the means of enacting them in a way that is beneficial to disabled applicants include or could include : 1) infrastructure investment and the leverage now offered by social value especially the metric on disability recruitment, 2) business advice and support, the major advisory bodies such as the CBI, FSB and Chambers of Commerce could establish disabled membership categories in lieu of Government support, 3) research and development; working with Innovate UK to make disabled people the first users of the innovations being funded by them or the first consumers via remunerated user groups of disabled people and 4) auditing start up grants and loans to assess their uptake by disabled people.


The Government could and should seek a dividend from its bailout of thousands of businesses. The Government should link their financial support to them adopting inclusive recruitment and retention plans that would take effect when the business moved back into profitability. Failing this, the Government risks paying twice, once in the bailout and secondly on social security when disabled people are excluded from the job opportunities.


Routes to disability entrepreneurship should be supported. Digital platforms could be established that facilitate skills exchanges, asset exchanges and the “Slithers of time” concept that allow those people with fluctuating health conditions to advertise their skills and availability for work. The shortfall in apprentices highlighted by the Social Mobility Commission should in part be plugged by targeting disabled applicants and offered them the flexibilities including Access to Work that makes it possible to do an apprentice.


The Access to Work fund should be expanded to include a research and development component to research the removal of barriers to the labour market for specific impairment groups e.g. people with dyspraxia and what constitutes best practice e.g. could trainees and apprentices with learning difficulties be supported with video clips of their practical and social skills for use in interviews.


There is a new industrial revolution in progress. New industries are emerging in Fintech, A.I. and battery technology to name just a few. We need to ensure these developments also drive inclusion. A.I. could offer memory storage facilities for people with dementia, Fintech could offer new sources of starter capital for disability led businesses. Advances in battery technology could in turn power new autonomous vehicles for disabled passengers or drivers. Creative industries will find new ways of us all having fun in a post pandemic landscape. All will offer new jobs. But someone somewhere needs to make sure disabled people are not just consumers but co-producers and not just users but workers. As the research in these fields produces new jobs in these sectors could the Chancellor link tax breaks and subsidies to performance on disability inclusion.


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The Disability Resilience Network aims to create hot spots of excellence where communities of disabled people and their non-disabled supporters link artists, inventors of new business models and technologists together with the object of establishing inclusive economies. Join today!

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