On the day of the Windsor Consultations, where I am speaking on all things Inclusive Entrepreneurship as part of my contributions across November 2019 in support of #GEW2019, I wanted to take a little while to reflect on work I have done in this area to date and the Launch of the Digital Platform for the Inclusive Entrepreneur.
We are about to celebrate 10 years since I started to consider the equality of access to and opportunity within the workplace. This was in no small part because of my own experience of acquiring a disability which impacted significantly on me in the workplace.
At the time I had been enticed out of entrepreneurship, #InclusivePlay, #InclusiveChildcare, to cascade the Model I had developed (Inclusive Playcare Model) initially across the borough where I lived, and subsequently across the UK. It was, it might be said, at the height of my career.
However as the Joseph Rowntree report later concluded, I was one of the statistics in terms of an employment tribunal, later which one might conclude ended well as I won on point of law but in reality no-one won. I found myself out of the workplace (workforce retention or more importantly the lack of it, is deserving of an article in its own right).
It was here, upon realising how difficult it was to get back into mainstream employment - reasonable adjustments really didn’t come into play in terms of pre-employment at that time, and interviews were brutal, as my symptoms and the assessment process collided - that I reverted to my earlier passion of entrepreneurship.
Like many things in life, once you step into the unknown, your learning curve is steep. In this case, I quickly became aware of the arena within which I would operate going forward and the fragility of the measures that were in place to manage my symptoms in the workplace.
I also realised just how many people were facing similar challenges in addition to coming to terms with a life-changing diagnosis.
By then I had formed FLUIDITY, which supports people with hidden and fluctuating conditions to access life’s opportunities.
One of the biggest factors for members was the negative experience they had, both within the workplace, and also when having lost their job, they tried to get back into mainstream employment. They faced a life on state benefit - which contrary to the misconception, is the last place people who want to access the workplace want to be - and I could see the detrimental impact it had on our members' health and well-being as they tried to navigate alternatives. One of the most natural of these was for members to become self-employed, effectively cutting out the hurdles and taking back control.
In response to this, I forged ahead, utilising the skills I had developed in the cultural arena. I developed and piloted the ‘Inclusive Entrepreneur Program’ in 2013, courtesy of ESF funding and colleagues who believed in the integrity and intent of the process, particularly those who were brave enough to become participants.
The resultant learning informed the film below, alongside recommendations to government on how things could be improved going forward.
Unfortunately for Disabled Entrepreneurs, this also coincided with a restructuring of the Access to Work award (under less than justifiable circumstances which was, and still is, the only discretionary award aimed at supporting disabled people in the workplace.
The restructuring of the award, often referred to as the best-kept secret, was devastating and the fallout is still being felt and challenged to this day. The intent and the administration of the award continue to collide - most notably the Cap on the award which has no economic grounds, and the expectancy that a disabled entrepreneur has to prove business viability in 12 months or lose their support, contrary to sector data and learning on start-up phases etc.
When it works, it is life-changing. Its intent is pure and if it was to be placed within BEIS rather than DWP, we could see incredible growth in this area. The more punitive measures of the DWP would be replaced by a desire to nurture within a business environment that understands economics and would embrace the support requirements and ways in which disabled people manage their working lives as a positive contribution to GDP, not perceived as care/tax burdens.
Unfortunately, following the restructure, things did not improve. This led to over 30 complaints to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). There are continuing difficulties as a result of the conflicting guidelines and regime within the DWP. This situation is becoming increasingly akin to - and not saying it is the correct way to treat a disabled person that way - one that refers to disabled people as not working rather than supporting the resilience and desire to continue to be within the workplace. Instead, DWP are using punitive measures rather than the more innovative ones within BEIS.
Members find it at best difficult to navigate, and at worst feel thwarted and unable to grow their business. This is because of the Cap, the backroom administration, and the lack of understanding about entrepreneurship for disabled people.
There is much debate at the minute about the drivers behind people who face barriers to the workplace and move into entrepreneurship - often cited incorrectly in my opinion - that they are not doing real jobs or are not contributing GDP.
I see this as much more complex, as the realms of the Inclusive Entrepreneur ought to be viewed across the full spectrum of outcomes. These outcomes not only measure the business they run but the positive impact on the economy, on those they trade with and the social impact within society, alongside the positive impact on their health and wellbeing, and the equally resultant positive impact on health and social care budgets.
Supporting this sector growth evidences commitment to legislative duties, the Sustainable Development Goals, and what is sometimes dismissed as "what is morally right".
So our Call to Action across this month, which has also been adopted as the month celebrating female entrepreneurship by NatWest, remains clear as we celebrate the great things being achieved by our inclusive entrepreneurs, with the following recommendations essential to reducing the employment gap for those with protected characteristics through Inclusive Economic Growth.
- Paradigm shift in governement policy
- Early identification and implementation of support
- Direct access to personal advisor
- Training on management of support
- Continued support for personal care
- The award contains support for compliance areas
- Easy access to mental health support and holistic therapies
- Equity within access to finance
- To place the Access To Work award within the BEIS
Jacqueline Winstanley, November 2019
Entrepreneur, Humanitarian and Global Disruptor
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