the disability employment gap

the disability employment gap

Whilst the disability employment gap has narrowed in recent years, a significant difference remains in the employment rates of disabled people compared to non-disabled employees and the coronavirus pandemic has not helped address these inequalities.

Data published this month shows that 8.4 million people of working age (some 20% of the working population) have a disability.  Of these an estimated 4.4 million, only slightly more than half were in employment. Official data on the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people shows a gap of 28.8%, with 52.3% of disabled people in employment compared with 82.2% of non-disabled people.  In 2015 it was 34%.  So recent trends indicate the gap is closing which can only be a good thing. 

Nevertheless, over the last year the coronavirus pandemic appears to have impacted the proportion of disabled people who are in employment. Data published earlier this month shows that 400,000 disabled people were unemployed which was 76,000 more than the number who were unemployed a year previously.

The TUC has reported that the disability pay gap has increased.  In 2019 non-disabled workers earnt 15.5% more per hour than their disabled counterparts.  In 2020 this increased to 19.6%.  The TUC has called for mandatory disability pay gap reporting for larger employers.

As a result of these inequities, in November 2020 the Department for Work and Pensions announced their inquiry into the disability employment gap.  The objectives are to review the following:

  • Trends in the disability employment gap
  • Barriers to work faced by disabled employees
  • The economic impact of low employment rates for disabled people
  • The assistance available to support disabled people to obtain work and stay in work
  • The ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic

Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions select committee leading the inquiry, said “Almost one in five working-age people has a disability or long-term health condition. For some, this has little impact on their ability to work.  But too often, having a disability or a long-term health condition means dropping out of the labour market entirely.  With the right support, this can often be avoided.  The Committee wants to look broadly at the support DWP offers to disabled people and to consider how this could be improved to help people find, stay, and progress in work”.

The House of Commons select committee is currently sitting and hearing oral evidence from policy experts and representatives from local authorities, support organisations and business.  There is a dedicated session focusing on issues related to mental health, learning disabilities and autism.  Before the select committee sessions commenced, views were invited from many groups and individuals, especially disabled people. 

Currently the government offers support and funding to help such as Access to Work, Fit for Work, The Work and Health Programme and access to specialist support via Jobcentre Plus.

Coinciding with the government review, the Now is the Time report published last month by the Centre for Social Justice Disability Commission has proposed a number of measures to help address the employment gap for workers with disabilities.  These include mandatory reporting of data regarding disabled workers and pay gaps, increasingly supported routes into employment to include work experience for pupils and reform of government schemes.

As I blog we are also awaiting the outcome of the government’s National Strategy for Disabled People, the survey for which closed on Friday.  The Prime Minister is due to publish this strategy this spring.

In 2017 the government set a target to get one million more disabled people into work by 2027.  It is hoped that the measures put in place following the current government inquiry and strategy will help to level the playing field in the labour market in time to achieve this.

This blog is by Caroline Oliver, Senior Solicitor at Didlaw