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Responding to the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget and Spending Review today (27 October), Business Disability Forum has welcomed the £5.9 billion of additional funding to tackle NHS waiting times but says that focusing on diagnostics and testing is not enough. To get staff back to work and to reduce the disability employment gap, there also needs to be better access to treatment and a focus on work which includes everyone.

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy at Business Disability Forum, said:

“We welcome the additional funding to help reduce NHS waiting times. Even before the pandemic, employers were telling us that some employees were waiting 9 months to receive an initial assessment with a consultant.

“But focusing just on diagnosis is not enough. Employers are experiencing people staying off sick until they get treated; not just until they get assessed. Diagnostics and testing need to be promptly followed by treatment and getting the individual to ‘recovery’ as quickly as possible. Rehabilitation is a huge chasm in the NHS; where it can, the NHS is getting employees ready to leave hospital, but it is not getting them ready to return to work.

“If the Government is serious about closing the disability employment gap and getting people back to work following a period of long-term sickness absence, it needs to think much more strategically. By not doing so, the Government is adding to the staffing pressures currently facing businesses. It is also increasing the cost of living with a disability. We know that many disabled people are having to use their Personal Independence Payments (PIP) to buy in medication, mobility equipment – such as wheelchairs and sticks – and to pay privately for services that help them manage their conditions and stay in work. These are costs which Government should be covering through the NHS.”

“The increase to Universal Credit is hugely welcome, but we need to hear more on how disabled people fit into the Government’s plans for jobs and skills. The disability employment rate remains stagnant despite lower unemployment generally and a stronger economy. We need programs that are specifically targeted at disabled people and the barriers they face in accessing and remaining in employment. This includes an overhaul of existing support, such as Access to Work – a scheme which isn’t working for either disabled people or employers. Further investment in skills must also include digital skills, accessible technologies, and assistive IT technologies. A focus on work and skills must include everyone.”

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