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Disability charities lambast Sir Joe over supported employment comments

Photo by Eyleen Gomez

Local disability charities, The Gibraltar Disability Society and the Special Needs Action Group (SNAG), have responded to Sir Joe Bossano’s comments on supported employment during a GBC interview.

The Disability Society described the comments as “crass”, adding that they did “nothing” to encourage employers to hire disabled employees.

Meanwhile SNAG said that when it comes to Supported Employment, “the clock is meant to turn forwards not backwards”.

Sir Joe told GBC on Tuesday night that the GSLP-Liberal Government “initiated” supported employment in 2012.

He said the Government “inherited” 46 disabled people in supported employment in 2012, and the figure now stands at 68 individuals in 2023.

“These 68 people are people who would not be employed if it wasn’t because we are paying their wages and placing them in the private sector who accept to have them there working on a basis that they are in an environment where they can be doing something,” Sir Joe said.

“And from the point of view of the employer, economically it would not be possible to pay them in the sense that they would not have the same level of productivity.”

“So, in effect, we provide these 68 people principally to the private sector free of charge and we send people to make sure they are in an environment where they are protected and happy there.”

Sir Joe added the “best thing to do would be to have them integrated in normal employment”, which requires them to be 100% engaged, but questioned whether they would have the same level of productivity if they require more sick days because of their disability.

In its response, the Disability Society said: “Perhaps we can now understand why he chose not to speak on the subject of Supported Employment in his budget speech.”

“It was painfully obvious that Sir Joe does not comprehend the basics of Supported Employment.”

“He clearly stated that he ‘inherited’ forty-six disabled persons in employment in 2012.”

“The figure now, according to him, stands at sixty-eight, that is only an increase of 22 people in 11 years.”

“The comment that ‘those’ people would not be employed if it wasn’t for Government paying their wages and placing them in the private sector was crass.”

The Disability Society said Sir Joe was “digging himself into a deeper hole” when he insinuated that these individuals would not be employed without the Government paying their wages.

“This truly shows how little the Minister for Employment understands people with disabilities,” the Society said in a statement.

“Just like everyone else, and perhaps more so, they want to feel productive.”

“The Society further disputes Sir Joe’s statement that there are people who make sure the disabled people are protected and happy.”

“It is fact that there are no trained staff in the Supported Employment Company.”

“As we have stated on many previous occasions there are no trained job coaches working with the Supported Employment Company.”

“For Sir Joe to then go on and insinuate that a disabled employee would not be 100% engaged or that because they have a disability, they could be off sick more than most is bordering on insulting.”

“It is also hypocritical considering Civil Servants are entitled to six months full paid sick leave.”

“In fact, as Sir Joe is well aware, there are some who have spent much longer than that on full paid sick leave.”

The Disability Society said these kinds of “erroneous statements do nothing” to encourage employers to consider employing a person with a disability.

In fact, this has probably set back the hard work the Society has done in promoting Supported Employment by several years, it added.

“The Society said is well aware that Sir Joe created the Supported Employment Company Ltd, refusing advice from the Society, and which at present is not fit for purpose,” the Disability Society said.

“What we have been and still are asking for is that it be run effectively for all those that need it now and for the years to come.”

“It should have been established with a criteria, code of ethics and core values and principles underpinned in the Supported Employment Model promoted and practiced in the UK by the British Association of Supported Employment.”

“Employers need to be encouraged to recognise that persons with disabilities can work and can be productive as long as they are given the opportunity to skill themselves and be supported by a supported employment practitioner.”

“A major factor is also to provide support for the employer.”

“It is not a case of moving a person from job to job until they are happy.”

“It’s about finding the right job for the right person with the long-term aim of the employer paying the wages because they have a hard working and productive employee who is a benefit to their business.”

For its part, SNAG sought clarification from Sir Joe on supported employment, supported internships and inclusive apprenticeships.

“The Special Needs Action Group seeks clarification from Sir Joe regarding the availability and effectiveness of Supported Employment Opportunities in Gibraltar,” SNAG said.

“Moreover, we seek clarity about the availability, if any, of Supported Internships and Inclusive Apprenticeships for young people in Gibraltar.”

“These programs, widely recognised in the UK, serve as vital pathways for young individuals seeking to transition from education to gainful employment while requiring additional support.”

In a statement SNAG listed some questions for Sir Joe underscoring their concerns. The Group questioned how many young people are currently enrolled in Supported Internships or Inclusive Apprenticeships in Gibraltar, whether these programs are available locally and, if so, what measures are in place to ensure their successful implementation.

They also questioned the number of employers in the private sector who are actively involved in the supported employment scheme.

“SNAG recognises the potential commitment from private entities to employ workers with disabilities and seeks clarity on how they can effectively participate in the scheme, as well as any expectations or charter that has been developed in collaboration with employers,” SNAG said.

SNAG highlights the vital role of Supported Employment agencies in facilitating the return-to-work process for employees on sick leave.

SNAG also requested information on the current staff complement of the Supported Employment Company in Gibraltar, including the number of job coaches, supported employment practitioners, and personnel available to address the needs of this growing population.

Additionally, SNAG urged consideration for increasing resources and budgets to “adequately support the demands of this critical service”, adding that the employment of more trained staff is “essential”.

“Sir Joe’s understanding of these issues is crucial, as these programs directly impact the lives of many individuals in Gibraltar,” the statement from SNAG added.

“Furthermore, SNAG emphasises that Sir Joe repeatedly fails to understand both the urgency and the importance of addressing issues that are affecting persons that need this support.”

“This can also be seen in the way he has also responded in relation to addressing delays in processing disability benefit applications to ensure timely support for those in need.”

“We urge for a more appropriate understanding of the situation.”

“We believe in the potential of Supported Employment Service, partnered with Supported Internships and Inclusive Apprenticeships to empower young people in Gibraltar and facilitate their successful entry into the workforce.”

“We urge the Government to make this a reality.”

SNAG said it looks forward to Sir Joe’s response, hoping for increased clarity and commitment to addressing the challenges faced by those seeking supported employment.

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