Self-Employment for disabled people

What do you think: • Is self-employment for disabled people just about new businesses or broader cost/benefit goals? • Generic business start-up advice isn’t difficult to tailor for disabled people with the right approach and advisers? • Is the bubble of self-employment sustainable or will it burst without support?

Not surprisingly, having run self-employment programmes for disabled people since 2008, I am rather more convinced  about the value of this work route than the academic paper provided to the OECD.    While new businesses are a great outcome, disability self-employment programmes have the potential to make much bigger social impact.

The paper draws on a range of research reports and found that, like the UK, working disabled people in Europe are more likely to be self-employed than others.  This should be reason enough for ensuring that business start-up support is inclusive and tailored for them.  But this certainly isn’t always the case so that disabled entrepreneurs may flourish despite, rather than because of, “mainstream” business support.  Just imagine how many more could succeed if their needs were met!

For example, our client-based Work for Yourself programme has been delivered over recent years to large numbers of clients with very different impairments and needs.  The trick is to make it relevant and appropriate:

  • The advice:  start-up advice is always likely to be fairly generic.  But it needs to be tailored:
    • for the client group –  concise,  jargon-free, written at the appropriate reading level,  bite-sized, available in alternative formats etc ;  one-to-one help delivered locally, not time-bound or following a prescribed format. Continuous satisfaction surveys check if we are meeting their needs.
    • For the likely businesses – proportionate to the size of the business (no/few employees, low turnover etc) but still covering the essentials (financial records and tax, marketing, insurance etc).
    • The advisers: ours have professional qualifications and many years experience working with this client group so have deep understanding of the benefits system, different impairment needs and the range of other personal circumstances  which all contribute to business success.
    • Inclusive approach: avoiding judgement of business viability or individual capacity but enabling clients to make their own decisions; including people with any form of impairment; enabling participation and progress at client’s pace etc.
  • Research and data: There is no doubt that there has been limited study of self-employment for disabled people.  Some of our work for EMDA is reflected in this recent academic paper.  We also have the information from 6 subsequent years of delivering the Work for Yourself programme plus contextual local population data for further research if helpful.

But we would also argue that self-employment programmes for disabled people have the potential for much broader social benefit.  The prospect of working for yourself can be a means of engaging people who are long-term unemployed, face employer prejudice and see little prospect of getting a job.  Self-employment offers control, flexibility plus the chance of getting off benefits and personal fulfilment.      Many of our clients are now running sustainable businesses.  But the outcomes for others are equally valuable:

  • Some clients step from self-employment in to jobs – often with their primary customers who have seen their enterprise and abilities.
  • Some use the personal development aspects of our programme to re-focus their ambitions and achieve jobs.
  • For others, the process helps them identify skills gaps so they take up vocational training.
  • For many, participation improves their health and well-being plus social integration.

I see self-employment support as opening a door to many possibilities and that starting a business is only one measure of success.  Consequently, policy makers need to consider enterprise for disabled people in a more realistic and much broader cost/benefit context.

On a broader topic, more people have moved in to self-employment than jobs in the UK in recent years.  There are those who have started new businesses, some chose this type of work rather than retiring   while others may have legally-fragile self-employment status.    Many will be the result of the Government’s New Enterprise Allowance scheme for unemployed people.

Now we need all that self-employment to be sustainable but there is a risk that the support that individuals received in the early stages was not adequate or long-term enough.    There are lots of schemes to upskill the workforce but support for businesses tends to be largely focussed on those considered to have “high growth” potential to contribute to GDP etc.

Most self-employed people need simpler help. HMRC has lots of sole trader tax and finance material (HMRC Key Messages February 2015)   but many may not be aware or able to use it.    However, the more pressing need is to make the new businesses sustainable: develop their goods and services, extend their customer base etc   – low growth that keeps people off benefits.  Stronger coordination between HMRC, DWP and BIS is probably the answer.

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

Bouquet of the week.

To mark Holocaust remembrance – for all those who were lost then and those facing similar fates now.

Following the pub lunch last week, the tenant landlord was proudly telling us about the squirarchy that still controls a local village: even the colour of the front doors is prescribed.  He was rather more sotto voce about the tenancy control that meant that there were no ethnic minority residents.  And then we spotted the youth in a jacket bedecked with Union and England flags.  We agreed that this is probably not a place for repeat custom.

Yours staggered-that-this-still-goes-on,

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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