National charity Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI) hosted one hundred influential women from across the private and public sectors at the House of Lords yesterday (7th) to discuss the challenges disabled people face in finding employment and ways to close the disability employment gap.

Liberal Democrat President Baroness Sal Brinton who hosted the event on the eve of International Women’s Day, welcomed esteemed guests including representatives from the Lloyds Bank, Tesco, the Department for Work and Pensions and mental health charity Mind, as well as Minister for Disabled People Penny Mordaunt MP.

Attendees were invited to discuss ways to overcome the disability employment gap – a primary aim of RBLI. Currently, around 80 percent of non-disabled people are in work, compared to 48 percent of disabled people.[1]

At the lunch, Aylesford charity RBLI showcased their leading social enterprise Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company (BBMC) which currently employs more than 110 people, 60% of whom have a disability or mental or physical health condition. The social enterprise makes in excess of £5million in revenue which is then reinvested to help more disadvantaged individuals.

RBLI also spoke about their passion for launching new innovative pilots of back-to-work support programmes, echoing their Chief Executive, Steve Sherry CMG OBE, at the Work Pensions Select Committee enquiry on the disability employment gap in July – “if we do more of the same, we will get more of the same, which is not good enough.”[2]

RBLI are keen to deliver an expansion of their employment support programme LifeWorks, which was originally designed for ex-service personnel. An independent evaluation found that 83% of participants move into employment, training or volunteeringwithin 12 months, and 80% of those are living with a disability, health or mental health condition, highlighting the course’s effectiveness at supporting those with disabilities into work.[3]

Baroness Brinton, who visited RBLI in December where she toured BBMC and the charity’s Kent village, said: “Speaking as a disabled person, I am incredibly frustrated about the amount of talent that employers are missing out on.

She added: “When I visited RBLI before Christmas, I met many people: veterans with severe injuries as well as individuals with learning difficulties all working together as members of a highly competent, efficient and high-performing team.

“They have achieved a culture which is both passionate and dynamic. This isn’t easy to do. It can however be achieved and I wish many more companies and organisations could achieve it.

“With unemployment at very low levels, disability employment has become the key issue of our time. If there is any time in which we can solve it, it must be now.”

Penny Mordaunt MP, who also toured RBLI in December to see first-hand the work RBLI are doing to tackle the gap, also spoke at the event.

She said: “The number of disabled people in work has increased by almost 300,000 in the past year alone, but we need to see attitudes in business change faster to create equal opportunities in the workplace.

“Royal British Legion Industries is already doing great work in this area, and I hope others can learn from their innovative LifeWorks programme.”

RBLI’s Director of Strategic Development Lisa Farmer said: “We thank both Penny Mordaunt and Baroness Brinton, and all those who attended, for their contribution to what is an incredibly important and necessary discussion.

“The great ideas raised during the course of the event not only highlight the eagerness from both the public and private spheres to see significant change, but they also show the many ways that change can be implemented.

“We at RBLI will continue in our efforts to tackle the challenges many disabled people face in employment and will cooperate, with both the government and organisations, to tackle disability workplace injustice.”