When Sir Ludwig Guttmann founded the Paralympic Games, he said he wanted us all to stop focusing on what people couldn’t do, and focus on what they could. As we celebrate the phenomenal athleticism of our Paralympic athletes this month, it’s clear that the world has come a long way since those first games. But we also know that from sport to employment, having a disability is still seen as a limitation rather than an opportunity.
Labour has always believed in the dignity of work; the pay cheque that keeps kids out of poverty; the promotion that helps people get on; the sense of purpose; the defeat of idleness, the lifeblood of communities where everyone knows they have responsibilities and a part to play.
Our trade union history and our values mean we have always fought against discrimination and injustice in the workplace and led the way in championing inclusion, equality and opportunities for all.
In government, we changed laws, targeted investment and worked with employers and unions to change workplaces. The number of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in employment doubled. We left office with more women in work than ever before. We boosted the employment rate for disabled people, and legislated to make workplaces, buildings and public transport more accessible.
But we know that discrimination, prejudice and injustice persist – and too much talent is still wasted as a result.
When we launched the Changing Work Centre with the Fabians and Community earlier this year, we set out our aim to put forward new progressive ideas on what the future of work means for workers and the labour movement.
These essays focus on how we make sure that future is fair and inclusive for all.
The stories in this collection look particularly at disability in the workplace – both at the continued injustice many disabled people in Britain face in getting a job, and also at the practical examples of truly inclusive workplaces that make the most of everyone’s skills and talent.
Essays in this collection outline how areas of the economy that have traditionally performed well at removing barriers for disabled people to participate in work, such as manufacturing, the public sector and a variety of middle-tier jobs, are in decline.
Other essays from Seema Malhotra and Stephen Timms set a challenge to government and businesses to ensure that the new jobs of the future are not only just as inclusive as yesterday’s jobs, but even more so.
New technology has the potential to make it easier than ever for people to connect and work flexibly, and for employers to remove barriers preventing people from accessing work. But big changes have the potential to create greater inequality and insecurity too.
Just as we have done before, it is Labour’s job now to respond to these changes – to ensure new jobs and opportunities are accessible to all and to fight against new insecurities, exploitation and inequality.
As technology and the labour market change, there is a developing consensus that the jobs of the future will require a creative workforce too. And as Toby Mildon sets out in his essay, in order to boost our creativity, we need more diversity. How can we come up with the new ideas we need when everybody coming up with them has the same background, gender, race, ability or life experiences? In order to compete with the growing skills bases of China, India and other developing countries, our future workforce must be more diverse than it is today.
To build the creativity and diverse economy we will need, we must use all the talents our country has to offer. Achieving full employment will mean building the routes into work for those who’ve traditionally been shut out, it will require us to close the disability employment gap, as well as increasing the employment rate of women, of single parents, older people and ethnic minority communities. It will mean employers actively seeking out diversity and a government that creates the ladders up, as well as maximising the opportunities available.
The essays in this collection offer us hope for a more inclusive, more creative and diverse economy in future. At a time when inequality is rising and the Conservative government shows no sign of being able to meet the new challenges of technological and demographic change, it has never been so important for Labour and the Fabians to come together again to provide the progressive ideas, and for a Labour government which can put them into practice.