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What we want to see from the next government: Equal opportunities in the workplace 

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An illustration of two people working. A woman sits at a laptop and desk, she hands files over to a man standing by the desk. The main has a cohlear implant.

Our Loud and Clear manifesto sets out what we want to see from an incoming government. In this series we explain the issues we are campaigning on.   

In this blog our Head of Policy and Campaigns, Rob Geaney, demonstrates why people who are deaf or have hearing loss need better support to enter, remain and thrive in the workplace. He also outlines some initial steps that should be taken to create equal employment opportunities. 

Watch our Loud and Clear charity manifesto summary in BSL

Barriers to employment for people who are deaf or have hearing loss 

Being deaf or having hearing loss shouldn’t be a barrier to entering employment or having the career their talents deserve. But it is. Unfortunately, we know that people who have hearing loss are less likely to be in employment than those who do not have a disability or long-term condition.  

Shockingly, only a third of working age BSL users are in employment. This is a total waste of the skills and knowledge they have to offer employers.  

Our evidence has shown that the biggest barrier people who are deaf or have hearing loss face in the workplace is employer attitudes. Employers and line managers are unwilling to support staff with hearing loss, or simply don’t know how to. This was made clear in our recent ‘It does matter’ report, which found that one in five deaf people have experienced negative attitudes and behaviours from their manager at work in the last twelve months. 

Many of the barriers faced by people who are deaf or have hearing loss are also experienced by people with other disabilities, which is why we have been campaigning with the Disability Charites Consortium on issues relating to the disability employment gap. So, what should the next Government do? We have three policy asks that we think can improve employment prospects for deaf people and people with hearing loss: 

Policy ask one: Set an ambitious target to close the disability employment gap 

Since 2015 the Government has had a target  to increase the number of disabled people in work by 1 million.  This target was met over the course of the previous Parliament. It was clear from our engagement with the  Government that Ministers were more driven to meet this target because it was made publicly,  and they were held to account to fulfil it. .  

But this didn’t make a meaningful difference to the disability employment gap – the difference in employment rate between disabled and non-disabled people. The next government should have a double target: to both increase the number of disabled people in work and close the disability employment gap.  

Policy ask two: Help employers meet their obligations and replicate best practice through the creation of a Disability Information Hub, and reform the Disability Confident scheme 

The Government’s Disability Confident scheme correctly identifies the biggest barrier deaf and disabled people face in the workplace, which is the lack of knowledge and confidence amongst employers to recruit disabled people. But the scheme lacks ambition and doesn’t do enough to encourage employers to identify and remove the barriers they create for disabled workers and applicants.  

The scheme needs to be properly evaluated and reformed. Alongside this, we also want to see the creation of an employers’ disability information hub. This would provide a one-stop shop for employers who want to:  

  1. understand their obligation to make their workplaces inclusive for deaf people and people with hearing loss;  
  1. access support;
  1. receive customised advice on what adjustments they can make.  

Policy ask three: Reform Access to Work to offer effective support for deaf and disabled people 

Access to Work can have an enormous impact on the employment prospects for people who are deaf or have hearing loss. This is, particularly true for BSL users, who need to use BSL interpreters in work. But the delivery of the scheme has encountered many problems. 

For example, some deaf employees don’t receive their Access to Work support until after finishing their probation periods in a new job. The next government needs to tackle the delay in awards being made to avoid this issue continuing.  

The scheme also needs a cultural change. Currently, deaf people are told what support and equipment they will have from the scheme, instead of having an input into what support they receive, despite understanding their own needs better than anyone else.

Finally, Access to Work should do more to support jobseekers. Currently, jobseekers can’t prove what support they’ll receive from Access to Work until after they have secured a job offer. This risks job offers not being made to people who are deaf or have hearing loss, if employers don’t feel confident hiring them without knowing what support they will receive. The scheme should overcome this barrier by supplying applicants with customised examples of support, so that jobseekers can share this with potential employers during the application process. 

These are just some of the measures that the next Government should take to support people who are deaf or have hearing loss in the workplace. 

We’ll be publishing articles up until the 4 July general election, outlining the demands of our ‘Loud and Clear’ charity manifesto. 

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