Disabled workers continue to face barriers in the workplace 0

disabled workersA series of reports published in the past few days highlight the challenges faced by Britain’s disabled workers. The studies claim separately that disabled workers are keen to work but are less likely to be in employment and may be hiding disabilities from employers, are paid less when they are in work and that many employers do not feel they are well equipped to deal with the needs of disabled staff. The first study from Reed in Partnership and Disability Rights UK found that one in ten employers do not feel able to support a disabled employee. Meanwhile research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that employees who experience mental ill-health earn up to 42 per cent less than colleagues. A third report from Citizen’s Advice found that 40 percent of disabled people would like to work but can’t find a job. And finally a report from RIDI claims that many people applying for jobs may be hiding their disability from employers.

Lack of confidence from employers

Employment specialists Reed in Partnership and charity Disability Rights UK surveyed over 300 people involved in recruitment, human resources or leadership positions within business on their views of the challenges disabled people face entering employment for their report ‘Disability and Employment’.

Key findings in the report include:

  • 1 in 10 employers do not feel confident that their organisations would be able to support an employee with a disability.
  • 84 percent of employers told us that disabled people make a valuable contribution to the workplace, however more than one in ten (12 percent) worry that disabled people are more likely to take time off work.
  • One in five employers consider that the cost of modifying equipment makes it expensive to employ disabled people, and almost half (49 percent) of respondents said that additional funding for adaptations would help businesses to retain disabled people in employment.
  • Almost a third (31 percent) said that businesses are worried that disabled people will claim discrimination if the job does not work out.

The report warns that the Government’s commitment to halving the disability employment gap – that is, the difference between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people – is at risk unless action is taken. The report makes several recommendations, including:

  • Government expands its scheme to support business with the costs of adjustments, Access to Work, and increases publicity of the scheme.
  • Introduce a ‘one-stop-shop’ to offer help and workplace solutions for people with disabilities and their employers.
  • Encourage and incentivise employers to provide training in disability confidence to their line managers.
  • Employers should create cultures in which people living with impairments or health conditions feel more confident to be open about what they need at work.

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “With one in six of the population living with a health condition or impairment, employers are missing out on a huge ?number of talented people if they don’t recruit and retain disabled people. Disability and health issues are part of being human: we all need to accommodate difference. Disabled people also often bring assets like problem-solving, empathy and resilience to the workplace because of the challenges they have faced. We want to see employers work to create cultures in which people living with impairments or health conditions feel more confident to be open about what they need at work. We would also encourage senior colleagues who themselves live with health conditions or impairments to be open about their experiences and show that disability and health issues are an ordinary part of working life.”


A disability pay gap

Employees who experience mental ill-health earn up to 42 per cent less than their colleagues, according to the research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which suggests conditions such as depression, phobias and panic attacks have a dramatic effect on progression inside organisations.

EHRC chair David Issac described the figures as the “hidden disgrace of British society’s pay gap for men and women living with depression and panic attacks. There is still a large and unexplained gap, and the impact of discrimination and stigmatisation as underlying factors should not be underestimated.”


A mismatch of supply and demand

The disabled and people with health conditions need more help to stay in work or find a job because they face a huge “employability gap”, claims the report from Citizens Advice. It found that the disabled and people suffering a health problem were more than twice as likely to leave work as others. They were also three times less likely to move into employment, said the charity, adding that of the 3.5 million jobless people who are disabled or have a health condition, 1.4 million want a job.

The report urges the Government to offer better support, while employers were called on to understand the needs of people living with conditions such as arthritis or depression. It claims that one in four people aged 50-64 are disabled or have a health condition, while half a million in this group are unemployed but want a job.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Closing the health and disability employment gap will take work from both employers and Government. Disabled people and those with a health condition face a range of obstacles which need to be recognised and addressed to help them get and keep a job. Simple things like being flexible about medical appointments or adaptable working hours can make a huge difference.”

Equality and Human Rights Commission disability commissioner Lord Holmes said: “Across Britain, disabled people and people with health issues are being locked out of mainstream society through poverty and isolation. Disabled people want to be in work. Employment ensures both their own independence and greater equality for society as a whole. With sensible planning, and reasonable adjustments, there is no reason why employers cannot open many more opportunities for disabled people in their workplaces, and support staff with health issues who wish to stay in work.”

Anna Bird, of disability charity Scope, said: “We know disabled people are pushing hard to find jobs, but they continue to face huge barriers to finding, staying and progressing in work. The Government has made a welcome pledge to halve the disability employment gap by 2020. But the latest figures show this gap between the employment rate of disabled people and the rest of the population is widening. As this report has shown, the overwhelming message from disabled people is that having flexibility makes all the difference. Our research shows 40 percent of all employed disabled people say flexible or part-time working has enabled them to stay in work.”


A lack of disclosure

Just one in five employers and recruiters say that disabled jobseekers regularly apply for roles with their organisation, despite the fact that, statistically, every vacancy should receive an average of three applications from disabled candidates, according to the latest data from the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI).

There are 12 million disabled people in the UK but according to the latest government statistics, just 47 percent of people with disabilities of working age were in employment between October and December 2015. Among non-disabled people, this figure stood at 80 percent.

The latest statistics from RIDI, collected at a recent debate at the House of Commons which was attended by senior figures from UK businesses and the recruitment profession, suggests that this may be attributed to a continuing lack of awareness around disability in the workplace. Data from online portal, CV-Library, shows that each job vacancy, on average, receives 17.4 applications. Official figures show that 19 percent of people in the UK have a disability. Subsequently, three in every 17 applications should statistically come from disabled candidates.

However, just 19 percent of those surveyed said that they ‘often’ received applications from disabled candidates and 29 percent said that they ‘sometimes’ received applications from disabled candidates. 4 percent said that they ‘never’ received applications from disabled candidates. These figures are indicative of candidates failing to disclose disabilities at application stage, according to the study.

On a more positive note, when attendees were asked if they proactivity and confidently provide reasonable adjustments to disabled candidates, a show of hands indicated that the vast majority – around four fifths – did so at not only application and interview stages, but also when making an offer and after the candidate had begun work.

Commenting on the findings, Kate Headley, director of The Clear Company, who moderated the debate, said: “While it is fantastic that employers and recruiters are becoming increasingly confident in providing reasonable adjustments for disabled professionals, figures collected on the day suggest that there is still work to be done. It seems there remains clear issues around disability disclosure specifically, with just one in five audience members believing that they regularly receive applications from disabled jobseekers.”

Following the debate, the audience was asked who should be responsible for driving change in this area. The vast majority (88 percent) said that the recruitment industry and employers must work together to half the disabled employment gap.

Headley continues:“While it may seem like an unachievable task to hit the Government’s target of halving the disabled employment gap by assisting 1.2 million disabled people into work, it is possible if we work collaboratively. Employers must have the confidence to insist on diverse shortlists, while recruiters should use their powers of persuasion to sell the best candidate for the job – regardless if that candidate has a disability or not. Both the staffing sector and UK businesses should seek out third party support to become more confident on engaging with disabled candidates. If every business committed to hiring just one disabled candidate this year- we’d reach the Government’s target in no time.”