Inclusion is central to achieving our CIPD purpose of championing better work and working lives and therefore a key aspect of our Manifesto for Work. Our overarching call to the next government on inclusion is to help individuals who are disadvantaged in the labour market, for whatever reason, to access and progress in work. In short, we want the next government to lead and support efforts to create more flexible and inclusive workplaces. It’s unacceptable that significant numbers of people in underrepresented groups in the labour market continue to face inequality of opportunity.

In this article I aim to highlight some of the key aspects of our CIPD Manifesto for Work that relate specifically to the inclusion of under-represented groups in the labour market. I’ll explore whether and how issues including flexible working provision, addressing the disability employment gap and childcare provision, affecting parents’ and particularly women’s engagement in the labour market, are reflected across the party manifestos. There are of course many other inclusion issues that require focused action - some of these I have already covered in blogs, which is why they aren’t directly addressed in this short article.

Research tells us that flexible working is a critical aspect of workplace inclusion, with the potential to positively impact multiple underrepresented groups ‘getting in’ and ‘getting on’ in employment. It’s encouraging to see the opportunities that flexible working can provide being acknowledged in both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos. The former calls out the potential benefits for certain groups, including parents and disabled people, while the latter takes a broader view, encouraging employers to provide more flexible working from day one in a job, unless there’s a clear business reason it’s not possible.

We know from research by Timewise in 2016 that there is a significant lack of jobs that are advertised as being able to be done flexibly with just 8.7% of jobs paid at least £20K FTE advertised in this way. However, this figure on provision substantially lags behind the demand for flexible working. Our call to the next government is to help increase the uptake and range of flexible working opportunities across the economy by supporting innovative campaigns by professional and sector bodies and social enterprises. This call reflects the broad range of individual circumstances that we believe flexible working has the potential to benefit and signals that campaigns already exist which could be further amplified by government.

The much-needed attention to the disability employment gap is a reflected in the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP manifestos but to different extents. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats refer to expanding the Access to Work programme in their manifestos. This programme provides practical and financial support to help people with a disability or long-term physical or mental health condition to start or stay in work. In our consultation response to the Work, Health and Disability Green Paper earlier in the year, we voiced our support for Access to Work, but also highlighted where improvements could be made. For example, a lack of awareness among jobseekers, employees and employers alike is seen as a major barrier to fulfilling its potential. Our roundtable engagement with senior HR professionals which fed into our consultation response, highlighted some practical barriers to its use, including having to pay upfront for adjustments and wait for reimbursement (which could be a particular problem for SMEs), a complicated application process and eligibility requirements on the part of the employer. Further, there is no requirement on the employer to implement the scheme’s recommendations for adjustments. CIPD is of the view that Access to Work as a concept has tremendous value and potential, but that it needs to be reviewed and made more high-profile, flexible and responsive, with much greater promotion of its potential benefits for employers.

The Conservatives suggest those employing someone with a disability or chronic mental health problem will be offered a holiday on their employers’ National Insurance Contributions for a full year. When it comes to financial incentives, we feel there needs to be careful thought about the design and impact of them which could be a blunt tool if not thoroughly researched, piloted and evaluated. For example, will such incentives help change employer behaviour, sustaining the appropriate culture and good practice over time? There could be scope for scaling up the financial incentives available to employers via other routes and with a focus on sustainability, for example ongoing mentoring and support accessed via Access to Work for people with a disability or mental health condition.

In our Manifesto for Work we specifically highlight the Disability Confident campaign. The Disability Confident campaign is a Government-led initiative designed to make workplaces more open, accessible, diverse and inclusive. We call on the next government to build on and broaden this campaign to support greater inclusion around disability, with a focus on SMEs. At CIPD we are currently engaged in this programme to get externally recognised as a Disability Confident business. We also support the creation of a one-stop-shop resource hub to help employers navigate and access existing information, advice and guidance, given the breadth of individual circumstances employers may need information on to be able to effectively support their staff.

The final point I would like to address in this article is again a theme across many of the manifestos: childcare provision. Childcare accessibility and affordability is a key factor affecting parents’ and particularly women’s engagement in the labour market. In our CIPD Manifesto for Work we call on the next government to develop a national strategy on childcare, aimed at delivering improved access to good-quality, affordable childcare in ten years’ time. In particular, this must encompass a way of closing the current gap in the availability of free childcare for children aged 0-2. The recent doubling of free childcare for 3–4-year-olds is a positive step in the right direction but there is still a significant gap in childcare provision between the end of maternity or shared parental leave and the start of free education or childcare.

The need for sustainable funding for early years childcare provision is called out in both the Liberal Democrat and Labour party manifestos. The Conservatives propose drawing on practice elsewhere in the world to see what is working and suggest supporting primary schools who don’t already have a nursery to set one up. Encouragingly they also call out the importance of helping parents and carers back into work after time out of the labour market. The Liberal Democrat proposals flag 3 inter-related issues we know affect whether people feel able to stay in work after having children, tying together the need for extended childcare provision to children under 3, with an expansion for shared parental leave and employers being encouraged to offer and adopt more flexible working arrangements.

Whoever assumes the next government, there’s a clear need for a comprehensive childcare strategy which is informed by real need, and is easily understood, well-communicated and navigable.

In sum, for too long we have acknowledged the need for action to create fairer and more transparent workplaces where equality of opportunity is a fundamental principle on which an organisation operates. However action to echo this acknowledgement is long overdue and as the CIPD we will be actively championing the need for change to our stakeholders.

The moral case for building fairer and more inclusive labour markets and workplaces is indisputable. Regardless of our identity or background, we all deserve the same opportunities to develop our skills and talents to our full potential, work in a safe, supportive and inclusive environment, be fairly rewarded and recognised for our work and have a meaningful voice on matters that affect us.

But it’s also vital for the sustainability of businesses and economies: when we embrace and value the diversity of thoughts, ideas and ways of working that people from different backgrounds, experiences and identities bring to an organisation, everyone stands to benefit. In addition to the cost to individuals of facing prejudice or bias as a result of missing out on job opportunities, factors such as an ageing workforce and expected restrictions on employers’ ability to recruit talent from the EU mean that creating more-inclusive workplaces is becoming even more important.

About the author

Jill Miller, Senior Policy Adviser, Diversity and Inclusion

Jill is Senior Policy Adviser for Diversity and Inclusion at the CIPD. Her work focuses on the areas of gender, age and neurodiversity and she has recently led work on race inclusion, managing drug and alcohol misuse at work, and supporting employees through fertility treatment, pregnancy loss and still birth. Earlier in her career, Jill specialised in small business growth through good people management and employee wellbeing.

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