Westminster Business Forum

Disability in the workplace - removing barriers to recruitment and progression, creating inclusive workplace cultures, and next steps for policy and organisational practice

Morning, Tuesday, 21st January 2020

Central London


This seminar will look at latest thinking on removing barriers to recruitment for disabled people and creating more inclusive workplaces.

A major focus of the morning will be discussion on what needs to be done to encourage more disabled people into work, and what more government and organisations can do to support and retain disabled employees.

The agenda and keynote speakers

Keynote contributions:

  • Policy priorities for government - with Justin Tomlinson MP, Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, Department for Work and Pensions;
  • Reimagining the workplace - with Neil Heslop, Chief Executive, Leonard Cheshire; and
  • The next steps for policy development and implementation - with Tabitha Jay, Director of Joint Work and Health Unit, Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health and Social Care.

Panel sessions:

  • Evaluating policy, and progress on government targets - what is the latest thinking on what more needs to be done to increase the number of disabled people in work?
  • Responsibilities and actions - what needs to be done to move forward in increasing opportunities for disabled people in work?
  • Case studies: successfully creating inclusive workplace cultures - normalising disability, communicating with and retaining disabled employees, and ensuring routes to progression.

Policymakers and stakeholders will discuss what can be learnt for the future direction of policy from the progress made towards reaching the Government’s target - set two years ago - of getting one million more disabled people back into work by 2027.

They will also consider the way forward for the proposals to address barriers that disabled people face announced by the outgoing Prime Minister including:

  • Reforming statutory sick pay;
  • A conditional rebate to support SMEs managing staff on sickness absence and get them back to work; and
  • The formation of a cross-governmental disability team to help inform on policy for disabled people.

We also expect discussion on findings in a recent NAO report including:

  • on the challenges of being able to attribute progress in meeting targets to any specific policy, as government seeks to establish what approaches to employment support for disabled people are effective; and
  • that a target-driven approach is creating a culture where disabled people are encouraged to take short-term jobs rather than long-term meaningful employment.

Overcoming barriers to progress and creating an inclusive workplace

The agenda also looks at the range of factors in supporting disabled people in work in areas such as:

  • recruitment - what employers can do to ensure that processes are effective in ensuring that disabled people are not disadvantaged;
  • retention - including better communication in areas like the availability workplace adjustments; and
  • the onset of disability - and preventing those who become disabled whilst in employment from falling out of work.

Attendees will also consider how organisations can support and encourage disabled employees to progress through for example, flexible working and access to innovative technology.


There will be a further focus on the specific problems faced by SMEs and how awareness can be raised within these firms to overcome lack of knowledge on disability, concerns over capability and employee absenteeism and how employers can be made more aware of the support available to them.

The opportunities, options and issues for SMEs in better supporting disabled employees is expected to come up in remarks from Sonali Parekh, Head of Policy, Federation of Small Businesses.

Assessing further policy programmes related to disability

Areas for discussion include:

  • the Disability Confident scheme and how well this achieves its aim of challenging attitudes towards disability or should further steps such as disability reporting be taken; and 
  • programmes such as Access to Work, along with how awareness can be raised on the support available in order to encourage better and quicker take up.

Keynote Speakers

Justin Tomlinson MP

Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, Department for Work and Pensions

Tabitha Jay

Director, Joint Work and Health Unit, Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health and Social Care


Professor Kim Hoque

Professor of Human Resource Management, The University of Warwick

Neil Heslop

Chief Executive, Leonard Cheshire

Esi Hardy

Managing Director, Celebrating Disability

Paul Smyth

Head of Digital Accessibility, Barclays

Sonali Parekh

Head of Policy, Federation of Small Businesses