Here’s how to fix the disability pay and employment gaps

The latest official figures concerning disabled people and employment would be seen as shameful in a more civilised society than Britain’s currently is. 

Not only is there a substantial gap when it comes to rates of employment – it’s best described as a chasm given that it stands at 28.6 percentage points – those of us who are in work get paid less. 

The official figures for 2018 show that the median average hourly pay for non disabled workers was £12.11. Workers with disabilities, however, received just £10.63. That’s 12.2 per cent less.

To its credit, the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, the professional body for people who ought to be able to help address the issues the figures raise, is making a fuss about it. 

“Too many disabled people continue to face prejudice and struggle to get into employment or to remain in work, and are less likely to progress to senior management roles or to work in professional occupations,” said Dr Jill Miller, the organisation’s diversity and inclusion advisor. 

She pointed out that businesses that aren’t inclusive – and don’t manage health and disability effectively – risk missing out on hard working, skilled and talented individuals that we keep being told are in short supply.

She also highlighted the possible legal action firms that fail to comply with equalities legislation could face. Trouble is, the hurdles disabled people have to clear in going down that route are considerable. There’s a risk reward calculation and the risk side of it usually tops the reward. Legal action is typically expensive and it’s always stressful. Dealing with a disability in modern Britain is stressful enough as it is.

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That might help to explain why the risk of legal action is failing to concentrate the minds of employers. 

It’s true that the aforementioned employment gap is narrowing. But only very slowly. The latest figures show a decrease of 1.6 percentage points compared to last year (the period July to September 2018) and a decrease of 0.3 percentage points over the last three month quarter. 

That might look hopeful, but employment rates are generally high across the board. If that starts to change and unemployment starts rising – we’re just starting to see signs of that happening – will  the modest improvement we’ve seen be maintained? It’s open to question. 

So what else can be done, other than banging a lot of drums, and writing columns like this one in the hopes of tweaking bosses’ noses?

Well, disability charity Scope has its #WorkWithMe campaign, which aims to encourage businesses to address the issue themselves by providing them with tools and community resources to help them become inclusive. It wouldn’t hurt a few more employers to give them a call.   

But there needs to be a stick as well as a carrot, which brings me to the introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting, a rare progressive policy pursued by Theresa May’s government. 

While you could certainly argue that more is required to really move the dial on that front, it has served to embarrass a lot of big employers, some of which have been thinking about ways they might address it. 

Extending the policy to cover both disabled and black and minority ethnic workers, who also suffer from a pay gap that gets more and more pronounced the further you go up the wage scale, would represent a thoroughly good idea. 

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“Employers can help to close the disability employment and progression gap by ensuring that line managers are aware of their responsibilities around making reasonable adjustments. These are often perfectly achievable, such as providing flexibility over working patterns,” said Miller. 

Indeed they are. It really isn’t that difficult. 

The trouble is that some employers refuse to see the light. They need it showing it to them, forcefully if necessary. 



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