Minister calls on ad industry to set targets for representations of disability

Sarah Newton, MP, the minister for state for disabled people, health and work, has called on the advertising industry to set itself targets to increase the representation of people with disabilities in advertising.

Media360: Newton and Phillips
Media360: Newton and Phillips

Speaking at Media360 in Brighton today, Newton said: "The broadcast industry has set themselves some standards around representation of disabilities in the media maybe that is something you can do – set yourself your goals and measure against them over time."

She added: "This is all about a movement for change, we have made huge strides improving the representation of  women and LGBT communities but this is step we really need to take as a country to be truly inclusive as a society."

In a discussion with Sam Phillips, chief marketing officer of Omnicom Media Group UK and chair Open UK, Phillips praised brands including Maltesers and Channel 4 for their commitment to representation but said "with some notable exceptions you don’t see disabled people on screens." She urged the industry to build that inclusivity into the very earliest stages of brand planning.

Newton said we need to shift our focus to what people can do, not focus on what they can’t. She urged businesses to sign up to the government’s disability confident scheme

She said: "There can be a lot of fear, businesses aren’t sure about how to recruit disabled talent and how to make reasonable adjustments, but it is really easy to take that step and sign up to disability confident." She also highlighted the government grants available to businesses to help make their workspaces accessible.

According to Newton it is incumbent on all of us to think about how we can reflect that diversity of people in out population She added: "Some businesses say to me they don’t feel comfortable [featuring disabled people in advertising] or  it doesn’t fit with their core message. But one in five of your customers can have a disability so how can they not fit with your business."

In a question from the floor Newton was challenge on how the media and advertising industry can drive more aspirational images of disability in the media when the reality of the cuts to support we are giving to disabled people is anything but aspirational. "How can the media industry give a representation that is real and genuine and not in contradiction with the reality of the situation," she said.

Newton defended the government’s approach and said they were taking a ‘person centric’ approach and emphasised the support it was providing in enabling disabled people to work. She said: "Only half of disabled people who want to work currently have the ability to do that. So many people tell me they don’t want to be on benefits they want to work."

An all-party work and pensions select committee recently criticised  the government’s disability policy. Frank Field MP, chair of the committee, wrote: "A pervasive lack of trust is undermining its entire operation. In turn, this is translating to untenable human costs to claimants and financial costs to the public purse."

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