Chancellor Philip Hammond has outraged political opponents and disability groups by suggesting that increased employment participation from different social categories – including the disabled – has contributed to the UK’s low productivity.

In comments on 6 December before the Treasury Select Committee, Hammond said: “It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”

Hammond’s qualifying remark between the hyphens was brushed aside as Labour MPs Marsha de Cordova and John Mann went on the attack, respectively calling the chancellor’s comments “Disgusting scapegoating” and “Appalling”.

Astonishingly, Hammond uttered his thoughts just three days after the UN’s International Day of Persons With Disabilities – an event that the UK’s Civil Service had marked in emphatic fashion by going purple: the globally recognised colour of disability activism.

Indeed, the Civil Service has made the kind of progress on disabled employment that suggests it works under a very different mentality to that of the chancellor it serves. In a recent blog, senior Civil Service figures Jonathan Jones and Philip Rutnam noted that the organisation has grown its representation of disabled staff below senior level from 7.6% to 9.9%; harnessed the PurpleSpace programme to provide mentoring for disabled staff –and piloted an autism work-experience scheme that will be opened up to every single department next year.

In parallel, UK TV viewers have been touched and inspired by the second series of BBC documentary thread Employable Me, which takes a positive stance on the results of connecting disabled individuals with the world of work. What does all this say about how adrift Hammond’s remarks were of prevailing workplace trends?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “The business case for disability inclusion is that you’re widening your talent pool. Not only do you have more people to choose from – you’re taking a wider look at skillsets and appreciating what people have to offer, rather than being led by narrow notions of what will fit a particular job profile.”

She adds: “Another, recurrent business-case argument is that if your customer group is diverse, then the nearer your staff are to representing similar proportions of that customer group, the more customer-sensitive they will be. That automatically means that they will deliver better levels of service. So businesses that recognise those dual benefits – a wider talent pool, and better customer understanding – will obviously see them translated into improved returns.”

For further thoughts on appreciating diversity, check out these learning resources from the Institute

Image of Philip Hammond courtesy of Twocoms, via Shutterstock