Since the post was created in 1974, I am the eighteenth Member of Parliament to have been appointed to the role of Minister for Disabled People.
And despite only being in the job for just under a month, I have already been lucky to visit a number of charities and organisations who go to great lengths to ensure a good quality of life for people with disabilities.
One of the charities was the Shaw Trust – a national employment, learning and skills charity which helps people facing disadvantages to find work, gain skills and take control of their futures.
It was first established in 1982 to ensure that the most severely disabled people had employment opportunities outside sheltered workshops. Now they are one of the largest, national third sector providers of welfare to work and have supported over 450,000 individuals towards independence.
The Shaw Trust helps disabled people to gain employability skills in order to secure sustainable jobs and live more independently. They do so through dedicated work advisors who offer support, training and work experience opportunities. Crucially, they also work with employers to ensure that there is complete awareness surrounding disabilities, and how these can be accommodated for in the workplace.
The charity has partnered with the Government to deliver the Work Programme to provide third sector input into helping more disabled people into employment. We are lucky to have a Shaw Trust work programme provider here in Swindon who go to great lengths to help disabled people locally.
In January, I met a number of Shaw Trust clients as they graduated from the Thames Water Give Someone a Start Scheme, where they spent three weeks gaining valuable work experience at the Thames Water offices. The scheme highlighted the great work that organisations like the Shaw Trust do in terms of connecting with local employers, and encouraging them to offer opportunities to those seeking employment.
This is something I am keen to promote and will be looking at ways in which more can be done locally to get more businesses and organisations involved in helping the Shaw Trust to assist disabled people into work. Already I have been encouraged to hear that a number of Nationwide employees have spent time volunteering to help put on workshops and offer employment advice. This is extremely valuable and I am sure that there are more companies who can spare time to get involved.
Being in employment not only provides a living, it also gives us confidence, self esteem and a sense of value. Everybody should have a right to work if they want to, and I believe that it should be as straightforward for disabled people to find work as it is for those without a disability.