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Branch Report from Disabled Members Conference 2023

Disabled people should be asking employers if they are ‘fit to employ’

Disabled people should be asking employers if they are ‘fit to employ’ | Article, News | News | UNISON National

This was my first attendance at a Disabled Members Conference, and if I am truly honest, one that I had not put myself forward to attend before, because I didn’t consider myself disabled enough…if that makes sense?

I have had hidden disabilities since childhood that I can mask (sometimes) and have in past employments kept quiet for fear of losing my job, being judged, or not being promoted, which also meant that I used my annual leave to attend hospital appointments and then ended up taking time off sick due to the stress of trying to manage my condition’s in secret and not having a good work life balance. Now as I have got older and more confident, I can speak about some of my conditions openly to try and help others.  I have Severe/Brittle Asthma, I also have stomach/bowel problems, and have undergone many operations, earlier this year I had a bowel obstruction due to previous scar tissue that needed surgery, whilst under anaesthetic a further problem was discovered meaning more invasive surgery is needed.

My health problems will never be cured, just managed/ patched up for a while and due to the NHS being under such pressure, I along with hundreds of other patients, are having very long waits for treatment which impacts on our quality of life and brings pain, stress, anxiety, and lots of medication every day.

So, there you are…just a little bit of information, years ago I very wrongly thought that disabled people were those individuals with a visible disability, but I am so glad that I have learnt this not to be true. There are probably a lot more people like me, who have life changing medical conditions, who don’t consider themselves to have a disability and therefore do not notify their employer. BUT with a capital B

Being registered as a disabled worker gives you the right to be protected under the Equality Act 2010.

Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010

(The Equality Act 2010 doesn’t apply to Northern Ireland)

The Equality Act defines a disabled person as someone with a mental or physical impairment or health condition which has lasted or is likely to last, 12 months or more and which has a substantial, or more than trivial impact on their normal day to day activities. This includes cancer, HIVV/AIDS, and MS from the date of diagnosis and can also cover fluctuating conditions.

For Example, you could be entitled to:

  • More flexible working
  • Computer software such as speech to text
  • Adaptable equipment such as chairs, desks, or keyboards.
  • Time off for medical appointments
  • Help from access to work.
  • Disability Leave
  • Redeployment to a new role
  • Changes to sickness absence triggers

You also have the right not to be discriminated against, harassed or victimised.

Whilst at the conference, I met many fabulous and inspirational people fighting and campaigning for disabled people.

On Sunday 29th October 2023, Scottish Labour Politician Pam Duncan-Glancy gave a speech to the conference, and underlined the need to increase the confidence of disabled people to self-define in the workplace, “When we empower more people to say they’re disabled, and not fear telling people, we empower them to claim their rights, and we grow our movement.”

Scottish Labour Politician Pam Duncan-Clancy giving a speech at conference

During the conference, debates were about pay gaps, national care service and the health and disability white paper, in brief.

The motion ‘mind the pay gap’ noted that, even for those disabled people in work, the disability pay gap is growing and now stands at a shocking 17.2% or £3,700 less a year than non-disabled workers.

Delegates also passed a motion on developing UNISON’s vision of a national care service, which reasserted the belief that all social care should be provided as a funded, universal service that is free at the point of delivery service and works in the interests of all.

This would mean an end to private companies making profit out of care, and a commitment to deliver care services primarily through local government. Fair work, decent pay and improved status should be the norm for all care workers.

A motion on the government’s health and disability white paper, which was published in March this year, called it “an attack on disabled people’s income and independence”.

The government claims the new set of policies related to welfare benefits will help more disabled people and people with health conditions to start, stay and succeed in work.

However, delegates agreed that the opposite is true and that the key changes will push disabled people further into financial hardship, at a time when they are already experiencing the sharp end of the cost-of-living scandal.

For example, the introduction of personal independence payments (PIP) – adult disability payments in Scotland – as the qualifier to exempt people from looking for work “is just a ploy to force more disabled people into work whether or not they are ready for it, and to pay them less money in universal credit,” the motion said.

Also during the conference a motion that noted the “Huge lack of understanding” about neurodiversity in society, particularly in relation to women.

The disabled members committee is to consider working with neurodiverse members to develop guidance on neurodiversity in the workplace, which includes specific reference to the challenges faced by women workers with neurodiverse conditions. With the general election just round the corner, UNISON has been busily promoting the Disability Employment Charter, and has now got 150 employer sign ups. UNISON is a founding member of the ground-breaking charter, a set of nine demands of government that includes a new, two-week deadline for responses to reasonable adjustment requests.

UNISON has successfully negotiated for five of the charter’s asks to be included in the Labour policy platform:

  • mandatory publication of the disability pay gap, for any employer with more than 250 employees.
  • a simpler and more timely process for getting reasonable adjustments.
  • statutory time off for equality reps
  • expanding access to statutory sick pay
  • extending procurement rules to include equality issues.

On Saturday I attended a workshop on Negotiating Reasonable Adjustment Passports and disability leave policies.

This was an interesting workshop and highlighted that following the UNISON 2022 Disability and Health Survey that.

  • 74% of workers had some or all their reasonable adjustments request refused.
  • 23% of members had waited more than a year for a reasonable adjustment.
  • 21% had been turned down.
  • Only 17% of members had access to disability leave and therefore had to take annual leave for hospital appointments, which lead to more sickness due to no proper time off away from work which is what annual leave is for.

Currently, in employment tribunal cases, Disability Discrimination is the highest in the classifications of cases.

Therefore, more must be done to help disabled workers.

One of the most disturbing motions that I heard was for” inappropriate application of do not resuscitate notices”.(DNR)

Covid 19 had a devastating impact on society as a whole, but the effect on disabled people was catastrophic.  People who had a disability were denied essential services, hospital appointments, ability to attend day centres, respite and access to food. If they contracted Covid, many had “DO NOT RESUCITATE” notices put on their medical records without their knowledge or family’s knowledge.

This was the case when the only disability was ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) and there was no physical reason that the person would not respond to treatment to any other person who had not got ASD.

This issue was highlighted by MENCAP and reported in the Guardian newspaper.  This can never happen again, no one has the right to be denied basic human right’s to life.

Therefore, conference was urged to pass a motion to campaign and lobby for a UK wide examination of “Do not resuscitate” policy practice and procedures across all health care settings to ensure better monitoring and controls are in place in the application of DNR notices to protect disabled people’s rights.

Lots of other motions were debated and carried, examples of a few were:

Women and Neurodiversity in the workplace

Prostrate Problems

Making Hybrid Workplaces more accessible for deaf workers

Next Steps for our work on the disability charter

Progression for all – Black Disabled workers can’t be left behind.

Sickle Cell disease needs to be taken seriously.

BSL General certificate of education GCSE a route to be tackling the deaf employment gap.

Accessibility on the Railway Network

Personal Independent Payments, we need a fair PIP assessment

Access to hospital equipment

All disabled people in the UK should have free prescriptions

Neurodiversity Awareness

Full details of all the motions carried will be available shortly, via Motions Archive | UNISON National

Thank fully at the time of writing, the proposal of shutting ticket offices in train stations has been scrapped!

However more needs to be done for disabled passengers, using public transport, I heard many stories of delegates traveling by trains to get to the conference, and having been stuck on the train as no ramp has been provided even though they had registered ahead for assistance on arrival to the station, wheelchair users not being able to reach ticket machines and being stranded due to train cancellations or delays, the government wants us to use public transport more, so make it more accessible !

You may wonder what happens after the Disabled Members Conference, 3 days of discussions and debates of motions being carried or not?

Well, each of the motions that were carried during the conference will form the basis for action by the National Disabled Members Committee until the next Disabled Members Conference. They are also referred to UNISON’s other national committees where appropriate.

Motions that were not heard because time doesn’t allow, are also referred to and considered by the National Disabled Members Committee at its first meeting after the conference.

It was a privilege to be able to attend on behalf of our branch, if this is something that you would also like to do, UNISON have other conferences which you may like to attend.

These happen throughout the year, Events | UNISON National

National LGBT+ Conference

Young Members Conference

National Black Members Conference

National Women’s Conference

National Community Conference

Retired Members Conference

Disabled Members Conference

National Delegate Conference

Please do get in touch with the Branch If you would like further information or would like to get more involved within the branch and make the workplace a better place for members.

Leanne – Branch Administrator – Disabled Person