Andy White is Employment and Working Age Manager in the Evidence & Service Impact Section at RNIB.
Current UK government policy to improve employment opportunities for disabled people is based on the government’s Disability Confident campaign. Charities such as RNIB are keeping a close watch on this by measuring its impact on the employment rates of disabled people.
Blind and partially sighted people are significantly less likely to be in paid employment than the general population or other disabled people. For every three registered blind and partially sighted people of working age, only one is in paid employment. Worse, blind and partially sighted people are nearly five times more likely than the general population to have had no paid work for five years.
Measuring the employment rates of people registered as blind (serious sight impaired) or partially sighted (sight impaired) gives us the clearest indication of the employment status of people living with sight loss. But even among those not registered, the Labour Force Survey indicates that just over 44% of people who are described as "long term disabled with a seeing difficulty" are employed, compared with 74% of the general population.
One way to increase the numbers of blind and partially sighted people in employment is to focus on increasing the supply of blind and partially sighted people to the labour market by building their attributes and capabilities, and increasing the demand for meaningful work by supporting creative employment opportunities.
Another approach is to support people with sight loss to keep working—27% of non-working registered blind and partially sighted people said that the main reason for leaving their last job was the onset of sight loss or deterioration of their sight. However, 30% who were not working but who had worked in the past said that they maybe or definitely could have continued in their job given the right support.
We can address this by providing blind and partially sighted people with appropriate vocational rehabilitation support, and helping employers understand the business case for job retention. This is a challenge, given that the majority of employers have a negative attitude toward employing a blind or partially sighted person.
Blind and partially sighted people looking for work need specialist support on their journey towards employment. In addition to barriers common to anyone out of work for a long period, blind and partially sighted jobseekers have specific needs related to their sight loss.
Research indicates that those furthest from the labour market require a more resource-intensive model of support than those who are actively seeking work. Many blind and partially sighted jobseekers fall into this category.
The increased pressure on out-of-work blind and partially sighted people to join employment programmes means greater engagement in welfare to work programmes, and an increasing responsibility for the welfare to work industry to meet the specific needs of blind and partially sighted jobseekers.
Government policies such as the Disability Confident campaign will only be effective when there is a sea change in the proportion of blind and partially sighted people of working age achieving greater independence through paid employment.
Research about the employment status of blind and partially sighted people can be found on the Knowledge Hub section of RNIB's website. We also publish a series of evidence-based reviews, including one for people of working age, upon which this blog is based.
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