The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is to spearhead a national campaign to create better work opportunities for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions.

The LEP is working with the business community, local agencies and the Government’s Strategic Work and Health Joint Unit (WHU) to develop a model that can be applied to other parts of the UK.

It follows a Government-funded research project carried out by the LEP and the University of Exeter last year which found that many businesses are unsure about hiring people with disabilities or long-term health conditions.

In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly there are almost 50,000 working age people whose day-to-day activities are limited by a long-term illness or disability. This is over 15% of the working age population, and above the national average.

But less than five out of ten disabled people have a job, compared with eight out of ten non-disabled people.

Now the LEP is to lead a project to engage and support local employers by bringing together key partners and championing action.

As well as overcoming barriers to work, the LEP will examine workplace health and how people can be supported to remain in work.

The WHU and Government have pledged to work closely with the LEP as a ‘beacon’ area and to share findings with other LEPs across England and encourage them to take on a similar local leadership role.

The project follows a recent conference in Truro organised by the LEP, Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and Truro & Falmouth MP Sarah Newton, recently-appointed Minister of State for Disabled People, Work and Health.

LEP chairman Mark Duddridge said: “This is Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly leading the way to tackle a massive employment gap in our society when it comes to people with disabilities and long term heath conditions.

“Cornwall responded brilliantly to last year’s Green Paper on this issue and advised Government on practical things to get more people who are economically inactive back into work, and help them stay there. This is why we have been encouraged to lead on this issue as a beacon area in the UK. The availability of labour and skills is a key barrier at the moment to economic growth and there is a significant untapped pool of resource.”

St Ives MP Derek Thomas, who addressed the Truro conference on behalf of Sarah Newton, said: “The Disability Minister is a massive fan of what’s going on here and the work that we are doing to drive forward opportunities in Cornwall. She sees Cornwall as a great example of the commitment to inclusivity and opportunity and this is why we are regarded as the beacon. Let’s make Cornwall the start of something good when it comes to creating opportunity for everyone, whoever they may be and whatever challenge they may have.”