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Assistive tech can close disability employment gap and end UK’s ‘productivity deadlock’, claims parliamentary committee

A new report from the Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) claims that the Government – and particularly the Department of Work and Pensions, DWP – must lead by example and focus on assistive technology (AT) to boost both disability employment rates and the UK economy.

Other recommendations in the report include widening the scope of Personal Independence Payments (financial help for people with disabilities) to allow claimants to lease or buy assistive technology, and updating training for Access to Work scheme staff to help more people use AT.

Key to the report is the idea that AT needs to be pushed into the mainstream market to increase its use and effectiveness, simultaneously helping to lift the UK economy and productivity. The report claims that “The necessary rapid innovation and mass-marketisation of AT will only happen if the Government makes concerted efforts to stimulate entrepreneurship and drive forward advances – in the interests of promoting equality but also in the national economic interest.”

Writing about the report, Frank Field MP, Chair of the WPC, said: “Assistive technology could be a real game-changer for the UK economy … But DWP must vastly up its own game so that employers and disabled people – in or out of work – are fully able to benefit from all it has to offer. If we are finally to make any real progress towards closing the disability employment gap and ending the UK’s notorious productivity deadlock, Government must put assistive technology at the centre of its whole approach to supporting disability employment.”

The report was broadly welcomed by charities and disability advocacy groups. Writing on behalf of RNIB (the Royal National Institute of Blind People), Lucy Dixon, RNIB’s Policy Manager, called for the DWP to implement the report’s recommendations “as a matter of urgency” and for the Government to commit resources to Access to Work, “to ensure that people with sight loss and employers are fully aware of and able to benefit from all that assistive technology has to offer.”

Technology access charity AbilityNet also supported the report’s recommendations, calling on Government to raise awareness of cost-effective mainstream AT among employers and people with disabilities.

The report’s findings and recommendations draw on a government inquiry into employment and AT organised by the WPC in January, and a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT), which explored the role of AT in the UK Industrial Strategy.

Read the Work and Pensions Committee’s report at the UK Parliament website. The report is available in full or summary, in a range of accessible formats.

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