Last Updated: 12 January 2018
Created: 12 January 2018
Justin Tomlinson, the Conservative MP for North Swindon, was praised by cross-party MPs for his contribution to the Disability Confident campaign, especially during his time as the Minister for Disabled People.
In a speech in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, Justin praised the commitment of local businesses and organisations in Swindon who worked with him to employ more people with disabilities.
Disability Confident helps employers draw from the widest possible pool of talent, secure high quality staff and improve employee morale. The campaign has helped thousands of employers challenge attitudes towards disability, increase understanding of disability, remove barriers to disabled people and those with long term health conditions, and ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations.
During his time as the Minister, Justin created the idea of reverse job fairs to support the aim of the Disability Confident campaign. This was launched in 2015 in Swindon with Justin hosting his very own reverse Jobs Fair at Steam – which attracted 80 employers and 180 people in total.
The event saw employers, not jobseekers, attending to discuss their specific recruitment needs with specialist disability work programme providers.
“On the day we had 30 employer pledges,” Mr Tomlinson said during the debate.
“McDonald’s alone took three young adults with a disability to start immediate employment at a newly-refurbished restaurant. There were two internships.
“Three organisations—Swindon Borough Council, Network Rail and the Research Councils, all major employers in my constituency—signed up to the Disability Confident campaign.
“Swindon College launched an internship programme for those with a disability.
“The Local Enterprise Partnership wrote to all the businesses to provide the information. We had three donations from businesses to some of the charities there to support their work further, and 17 businesses agreed to meet different organisations after the event to specifically talk about how they could provide people to match the skills.”
Mr Tomlinson said the Disability Confident scheme was vital in giving employers the confidence to employ people with disabilities.
“Crucially, we all want more disabled people to have an opportunity,” he said.
“Everybody gains because the employers have skills gaps. People are determined to contribute and want to work. They are enthusiastic and talented.
“Through the Disability Confident campaign, we have an opportunity to share best practice and promote it. I fully support what the government are doing.”
The reverse jobs fair was considered a huge success, and since then similar events have been organised by other MPs across the country, including the SNP’s Ronnie Cowan who also praised the concept
During Wednesday’s debate Justin received cross-party praise for his commitment to the Disability Confident scheme and to disability rights – Shadow Minister for Disabilities and Labour MP Marsha de Cordova, acknowledged the passion which he had shown as a Minister and in debates since.
Text of Justin's speech
Justin Tomlinson: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) on his fantastic speech. I have known him for many years, and I am not surprised that he has a full grasp, and a very proactive and constructive way, of promoting this very important issue. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), who clearly demonstrates a desire to push this.
There will be contributions from Members right across the House because we all recognise the importance of the subject, and we all have a commitment, whichever political party we represent, to see more people with disabilities having an opportunity to work. During my time as the Minister for Disabled People, that was always brought home. Whenever I went on visits, my favourite thing to say was, “If you were the Minister, what would you do?” There were some great ideas that I would happily take forward and some suggestions that we could not, but universally, people—and particularly young people—wanted the opportunity to work. That opportunity is often taken for granted, but for some, there are challenges that prevent them from enjoying it. For some, it will be full-time work. For others, it might just be an hour. I spoke to the parents of young adults whose desperate hope was that their children would get one hour a week, which would make all the difference to their quality of life. We are all determined to make a difference, and this cuts across political divides.
I saw many good examples and did lots of tours. Big employers were pretty good. GlaxoSmithKline, National Grid and Marks & Spencer had big HR teams that were skilled at ensuring there were ways of navigating the challenges that those employees might face. However, 45% of jobs are within small and medium-sized enterprises, which are not big enough to have HR departments. They would often shy away from employing someone with a disability and did not realise that there was a huge amount of talent out there.
I know that there is, because before I became an MP I ran my own business and employed people with disabilities. I did not do that because I was ticking a box or seeking a halo. I did it because it made good business sense. We as businesses were competing for the very best people, and often by making very small changes, we can tap some fantastic talent and benefit. Before I did my Disability Confident event, one of my friends who runs a business said to me, “Do you know what, Justin? I’ll do you a favour. I’ll come along,” and I told him off. I said, “It’s nothing to do with favours. This has to work for you. There are reasons why it hasn’t worked for you in the past, and this is why we need to do a Disability Confident event.” Through the Disability Confident campaign, we can give employers the confidence to employ people with disabilities. I pay tribute to the DWP Disability Confident team, who were fantastic in providing manpower and very patient when I decided to do things completely differently.
I did a reverse jobs fair. Rather than a typical jobs fair, where people seeking a job turn up and hand out their CVs to employers, we gave stalls to 25 local organisations in my constituency in Swindon who help disabled people get into work. We had Pluss and the Shaw Trust, and lots of local organisations. I then wrote to all the employers that I could find addresses for and said, “You probably have recruitment problems, because we are close to structural full employment. I want you to come along and tell all these organisations where your skills gaps are, and they might be able to match someone to you.” There were 25 organisations, and 80 employers turned up—that was 180 people.
On the day, at STEAM Museum, we had 30 employer pledges. McDonald’s alone took three young adults with a disability to start immediate employment at a newly refurbished restaurant. There were two internships. Three organisations—Swindon Borough Council, Network Rail and the Research Councils, all major employers in my constituency—signed up to the Disability Confident campaign. Swindon College launched an internship programme for those with a disability. The local enterprise partnership wrote to all the businesses to provide the information; we had three donations from businesses to some of the charities there to support their work further; and 17 businesses agreed to meet different organisations after the event to specifically talk about how they could provide people to match the skills.
A lot of the businesses were worried. Would they be able to provide a safe environment for somebody with a disability? The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who has just left, made the point about the cost. That is why things such as Access to Work can help—it had a stand. Organisations understood that they could go to the employer’s business and say over a cup of tea, “This is what you will need to do to make a change. We will help to do that. We will not just drop somebody off on day one and then hope it all goes well. We will work with you because, when this is a success, which it will be because these people have great skills, you will keep coming back to us.”
Crucially, we all want more disabled people to have an opportunity. Everybody gains because the employers have skills gaps. People are determined to contribute and want to work. They are enthusiastic and talented. Through the Disability Confident campaign, we have an opportunity to share best practice and promote it. I fully support what the Government are doing. The issue has total cross-party support and I pay tribute to every individual MP who has taken the time to do a Disability Confident event. They are making a difference. I have spoken to the young adults and they are very grateful.