Equality of opportunity is a goal every country should strive towards. Regardless of race, creed, colour or disability, we should all expect a fair shake, especially when it comes to employment.
he fact that Northern Ireland’s disability employment gap is 66% higher than the UK average is, as Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said, a significant problem that “needs to be addressed”.
Everyone is in agreement that the best candidate for a position should get the job. However, the fact is that people with disabilities are often overlooked. Unfortunately, some employers see only their disability, not their ability.
Campaigner Dermot Devlin, who lives with a disability, described the disparity as “unacceptable and shameful”, as should everyone.
The first step in solving a problem is recognising that one exits.
We also need to get to the bottom of exactly why Northern Ireland lags behind the rest of the UK when it comes to employing disabled people.
Are there certain regulations or initiatives in place elsewhere that we could learn from or replicate?
Another aspect of this was touched upon by Claire Sugden, the independent unionist MLA for East Londonderry, when she said: “It is incredible that a significant pool of talent is not being utilised in the middle of a staffing crisis.
“Employers across many industries are crying out for staff, yet this poor level of employment remains.
Many sectors, from education to health, are facing staff shortages. It is unforgivable that we are not taking advantage of what we have.
Both Ms Sugden and Mr Devlin said these issues could not be addressed in the absence of a functioning Executive.
The longer the problems facing Northern Ireland are allowed to continue without action, the worse they will become, making them harder to fix in the long term.
Mr Lyons said the Department for Communities’ disability employment strategy, alongside his department’s plan for the economy, would help to tackle the issue.
It is his party, however, that is preventing the return of the fully functioning government that is so important to the success or failure of Stormont’s polices.
As we have seen before, such as with the Bengoa Report on transforming the health service, strategies, policies and proposed legislation are absolutely useless and not worth the paper they are written on unless there is the will and the capacity to put them into action.