Skip to main content Skip to navigation

All Party Parliamentary Group for Disability

Since 2016 I have worked with Dr. Lisa Cameron MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Disability, and from 2018 I have co-provided the APPG’s secretariat on behalf of Warwick Business School. Working with the APPG’s 200+ members, I have sought to influence government disability employment policy, most recently regarding the National Disability Strategy. Successes include: the introduction of apprenticeship targets for disabled people in the Industrial Strategy White Paper (2017); revision of the government’s disability employment targets; reform of the government’s Disability Confident scheme; revision of the disability employment criteria within the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012; a commitment from the Minister for Disabled People to explore reform of the government's framework for Voluntary Reporting on Disability, Mental Health and Wellbeing; and the inclusion of a consultation on the introduction of mandatory disability employment reporting in the recent National Disability Strategy.

What prompted you to engage with this project/policy?

I have conducted research on disability, and equalities more broadly, for several years. In 2016, Disability Rights UK approached me, along with colleagues at Bayes and Cardiff Business Schools (with whom I had earlier formed the Disability@Workgroup) to assist in writing a report for the APPG for Disability on how to close the disability employment gap. Following the publication of the report (entitled ‘Ahead of the Arc’), we spent a lot of time meeting with MPs and civil servants across No. 10, BEIS, DWP, and HM Treasury to promote the report’s proposals.

During this time, I also secured funding for a researcher to work three days a week in Lisa Cameron MP’sRoberta KirosinghParliamentary office, in order to assist in the work of the APPG as well as support the work we were doing in promoting the proposals within Ahead of the Arc, in part by leveraging the APPG’s influence. This eventually led to WBS becoming the co-provider of the APPG’s secretariat (in collaboration with Disability Rights UK). Since this time, the researcher (Roberta Kirosingh) based in Lisa Cameron MP’s office has earned a prestigious Parliamentary Staffer of the Year prize at the Parliament’s People Awards for her work on disability.

Where did you hear about it and who did you contact?

I first became involved in this work via Disability Rights UK and the APPG for Disability. Once I had identified the possibility of securing funding for a researcher to help promote ‘Ahead of the Arc’, I contacted Lisa Cameron MP to secure her support. I then liaised with Disability Rights UK to hire a researcher, and together determined how we might promote ‘Ahead of the Arc’.

How does policy engagement impact the rest of your work?

Given my research expertise, I was able to exercise a great deal of influence on the Commission’s employment recommendations, and to ensure my own research was reflected within these recommendations. I consider securing impact on government policy from my research to be one of the most important aspects of my job. I have never seen the point in conducting research that will only ever be read by a relatively small group of people in the academic world, and I have also always viewed publishing as a means to an end (to affect change) rather than as an end in itself. In my view, as well as upholding standards of empirical rigour and taking theoretical debates forward, business schools should promote academic research that seeks to make a genuine and substantive practical difference, whether that be to the economy, business, the labour movement, the charity sector, government policy, or to individual people’s lives. It is extremely rewarding when you see your research starting to have this effect.

What support did you receive?

I received financial support terms from the Business School and the University (via the ESRC IAA), which has been essential in providing me with a formal seat at the table in Parliament, access to the APPG’s Parliamentary membership, and to the APPG’s wide range of contacts among senior civil servants, for example. Funding has enabled me to secure meetings with both the Minister and Shadow Minister for Disabled People. I have also received support in the form of teaching buyout, without which it would not have been possible to undertake this work. I have also received invaluable support from both Dr.Lisa Cameron MP and the APPG’s vice-chair Lord Shinkwin, who appointed me to the Centre for Social Justice’s Disability Commission in April 2020, alongside other commissioners including Baroness TanniGrey-Thompson; former Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper MP; and the Business Disability Forum’s CEO, Diane Lightfoot.

What advice would you give to other academics when engaging with policy and policymakers?

1. Ensure your research is relevant to policy - First and foremost is to conduct research that is directly focused, and has something important to say, on key elements of government policy. If you do this, you can then go into meetings with ministers, Parliamentarians, and civil servants with something novel, thereby gaining their attention. This is essential in establishing credibility and in demonstrating you have something genuinely substantive and new to add to Parliamentary debate.

2. Secure support for your proposals - The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is taken very seriously by government, so to have proposals from my research reflected in the commission’s report was an extremely important demonstration to Ministers of support for these proposals from a body they trust. Similarly, the APPG supported the proposals I was putting forward. I secured attendance at one APPG meetings from the Business Disability Forum, CIPD, TUC, NHS, Deloittes and Scope, thereby demonstrating their support for the proposals. We are currently seeking sign-up to the charter from among other charities, Disabled People’s Organisations, and trade unions, and shortly, with the assistance of Lord Shinkwin and the CSJ Disability Commission’s deputy chair, David Forbes Nixon OBE, will be seeking sign-up from corporates. If successful, this will provide a powerful demonstration of the broad platform of support for the action we believe the government needs to take to improve disabled people’s employment outcomes. This will, we hope, give the government no choice other than to take serious note of what we have to say.

3. Forge alliances - The first alliance I forged was with Disability Rights UK in 2016, and in turn with Lisa Cameron MP in her role as APPG chair. It was as a result of this alliance that one of my first meetings following the publication of Ahead of the Arc was with the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green MP. This alliance then proved essential in securing meetings with civil servants across BEIS, DWP, Cabinet Office, HM Treasury, and with the Prime Minister’s Disability special adviser at Downing Street. Academics are not campaigners, and have little legitimacy in this regard. However, forging alliances with campaign groups (such as Disability Rights UK) can prove highly potent. They have the legitimacy to be able to secure (or demand) meetings with key politicians and civil servants. As academics, we can then attend these meetings to provide the necessary detailed expertise.

4. Play the long game - Research impact does not just fall into your lap, and simply giving a few presentations or distributing a few policy briefs to civil servants or politicians will not be enough. You need make the same arguments repeatedly to different groups of individuals. For example, if you are able to persuade civil servants across a range of departments of your ideas, these will become increasingly central to mainstream policy discussions. Similarly, by seeking buy-in to your ideas from different groups of stakeholders (charities, trade unions, business etc.), you can bring these groups together to forge a powerful consensus. This will enable you to substantially influence the policy narrative and move the policy agenda forward.