2 December 2020
More than 100 businesses – which employ around 170,000 people in the UK - have committed to becoming more inclusive employers of disabled people after joining Virgin Media and the disability equality charity, Scope’s campaign to address the UK’s disability employment crisis.
Virgin Media and Scope’s #WorkWithMe forum is helping businesses to take the steps to transform their policies and practices so they can support as many disabled people as possible.
It comes at a crucial time; the UK’s disability employment gap – the rate at which disabled people are employed compared to non-disabled people – has remained static for more than a decade, with disabled people’s employment still stuck about thirty percentage points behind. This issue has been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic where many disabled people who have not been redeployed or furloughed are facing an impossible choice between going to work and risking their health, or staying home and being unemployed.
As a result, Virgin Media and Scope are urging businesses to do everything they can to support disabled people and to join the #WorkWithMe community to become a more inclusive employer. It comes as both organisations have supported more than a million disabled people with the skills and confidence to get and stay in work.
#WorkWithMe is a free platform designed by business for business, helping companies – large and small - to take accountability for how they employ disabled people, and offers practical advice on how to improve the workplace and culture for disabled people.
A number of the UK’s biggest brands have signed up to the community since its launch in 2019, including American Express, Centrica, Deloitte, Ford, Innocent Drinks, Legal and General and Unilever.
Laura Fullstone, Inclusion Manager at Deloitte, said:
“We’re committed to ensuring our firm is inclusive, where individual differences are respected and valued. An inclusive culture means encouraging true diversity of thought and creating an environment that allows everyone to play to their strengths.
“We are committed to ensuring that our working environment is accessible, inclusive and welcoming for all, as well as being fully enabled by agile working and technology. We really value being a part of the #WorkWithMe community as a forum to share best practice and ideas to help us achieve this.”
Jeff Dodds, Virgin Media’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “It is an uncomfortable truth that huge numbers of disabled people continue to be left out of the workplace, with the Covid-19 crisis forcing even more disabled people out of work.
“Therefore our #WorkWithMe community has never been more important or timely; helping employers – no matter their size – to become more inclusive and supportive employers of disabled people.
“As a business leader I have seen first-hand the benefits of employing disabled people and how they have enriched our company with sought-after skills, from diversity of thought to problem solving and creativity.
“I am urging other employers to do what they can to support disabled people during these difficult times and to join #WorkWithMe.”
Supporting a million disabled jobseekers
Virgin Media and Scope have now supported more than a million disabled people with the skills and confidence to get and stay in work via their Support to Work service; the first employment service of its kind for disabled people in the UK.
The free service was launched in 2018 as part of Virgin Media and Scope’s disability employment campaign which aims to address the inequalities disabled people can face when applying for work or when they are in the workplace.
More than a million disabled people have used the Support to Work service – accessing online resources or a tailored 12-week programme which provides key advice such as how to write a CV and a cover letter, interview practice, as well as how to discuss workplace adjustments with an employer.
As a result of the pandemic, the service is facing record demand with a236% increase in referrals in October 2020 compared to the same period the year before.
The Support to Work jobs board recently launched with vacancies from a variety of inclusive employers which are welcoming applications from disabled people. There are roles from employers such as the Civil Service, Colas Rail, as well as Virgin Media and Scope. The service has been directly funded thanks to the fundraising efforts of Virgin Media’s employees.
Jaki Wilson, 48 from Basingstoke, is blind and has used Support to Work twice in her career. Once to help her move from being a support worker at a hospital, to supporting victims of domestic violence. And then again when an opportunity became available within the same company.
Jaki said: “Trying to change career was like going into the unknown, with my eyesight condition it was really quite scary.
“My Support to Work adviser was just really, really brilliant. We started working together around once a week. At the time I wanted to switch careers, I didn’t have a huge amount of relevant skills from my previous employment.
“So we worked together, looking at what career I wanted to go into, and managed to make my skills transferable. That’s something I just don’t think I would have been able to manage very well on my own.
“My adviser coached me through how to talk about my disability positively and when to bring it up. Previously I was telling interviewers what I couldn’t do rather than getting them to think about how I can do the job.
“Likewise, when I wanted to move jobs Support to Work was there for me again and I’m now very happy as a Domestic Abuse Health Advocate."
Transforming our business
Since it partnered with Scope in 2015, Virgin Media has taken a number of steps to better support disabled people; from recruitment and employment, to the products and services it sells.
This includes removing workplace barriers for disabled employees and ensuring line managers have the tools and confidence to recruit and support disabled people. In addition, the company has rolled-out dedicated disability and vulnerability training to 8,500 front-line employees, is streamlining its workplace adjustments process, and at the start of the pandemic redeployed ‘at risk’ or vulnerable employees into different roles so they could work from home.
Virgin Media has also become a strategic partner of the Valuable 500 – an organisation which aims to put disability on the board agenda of 500 global businesses, and is a gold tier sponsor of the British Paralympic Association and the team, ParalympicsGB.
Jeff Dodds continued: “We are incredibly proud to have worked so closely with Scope over the past five years, and together we have made a positive impact on the lives of disabled people across the UK.
“Although our partnership is coming to a close, our work to become a more inclusive business is only just beginning. We’ll take the values and lessons we have learnt and put them front and centre of our plans to support communities over the next five years.”
Mark Hodgkinson, Chief Executive at disability equality charity Scope, said: “Over the past three years Scope and Virgin Media have blazed a trail with our disability employment programmes. We wanted to transform the employment prospects of disabled people in this country. For too long far too many have been left behind.
“Through this partnership, huge numbers of disabled job seekers have benefitted from much sought after specialist advice and information on getting in, staying in, and progressing in work.
“With Virgin Media’ support, we work directly with disabled people when they are ready to move into work and support continues after employment starts.
“Scope and Virgin Media’s #WorkWithMe community is connecting employers so they can put themselves in a much stronger position to recruit and retain disabled talent.
“Disabled people have been hit extremely hard by the pandemic, and we’ve yet to feel its full economic fallout. Never have our employment support programmes been so badly needed.”
Notes to editors
Disability employment gap: Office for National Statistics, Labour Force Survey November 2020. The disability employment gap is the difference between the rate of employment for disabled people and non-disabled people: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/datasets/labourmarketstatusofdisabledpeoplea08
#WorkWithMe is available for businesses of any size. The community can be accessed via www.workwithme.support.
Businesses which sign up are asked to commit to a simple, five-step plan so they can take accountability and receive practical advice on how to improve workplace policies, practices and culture for disabled people. The key elements include:
· a senior leader taking accountability for disability inclusion
· a complete review of how a company supports disabled people – from recruitment to the policies in place to provide support in the workplace, and implementing a disability action plan
· helping line managers become confident about how to support disabled people, such as how to implement reasonable adjustments
· beginning your journey to record progress on disability inclusion, such as measuring the number of disabled people employed and tracking disabled employees’ views on how well the company is doing at creating inclusive workplaces
· Sharing best practice and learnings, and co-creating with other businesses
Companies that sign up to the #WorkWithMe programme will have access to a suite of free resources created by their peers based on first-hand experience of employing disabled people. This includes guides for managers on how to talk confidently about disability and hold accessible meetings, along with the opportunity to connect with other companies which have signed the pledge to discuss best practice and to share resources.