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‘We always seem to lose out’: How Covid-19 has hit jobs for disabled people

Disability blogger Emma Dobson says she has sent out 200 job applications without getting work. She’s not alone. New research shows the disability employment gap has risen during Covid-19
Emma Dobson has found work hard to come by since graduating for university. She blogs about the issue at Invincible Woman on Wheels. Image credit: Dev Place photos

Disabled people were 60 per cent more likely to lose their job during the pandemic, a new report has found, despite the shift into remote working bringing extra flexibility to work places.

New research from think tank Learning and Work Institute and the Black Stork Charity revealed progress on helping disabled people into work had been hit hard by Covid-19. Out-of-work disabled people were significantly less likely to be in work by the end last year and twice as likely to be long-term unemployed than non-disabled people.

That has been the case for disability blogger Emma Dobson. The 24-year-old, who uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, has spent the last 12 months job hunting since finishing her masters degree in cognitive neuroscience at Birmingham Aston University.

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“It’s been a year of job hunting now and it’s not really going anywhere. That’s quite frustrating,” said Emma, who lives in Birmingham.

“Recruiters see my CV and give me the ego boost telling me I have a masters degree and an undergraduate degree and they are both a first and then we get to why haven’t you got a job? Plain and simple it’s the access.

“I’ve got to interviews and passed them and I’m told ‘We are not accessible sorry’ and the conversation just ends. It’s not a problem I can fix.”

Emma told The Big Issue she had sent out around 200 job applications for roles as a support worker, research assistant and content creation, resulting in 15 job interviews. In three cases, Emma claimed accessibility was the reason she was given for missing out on work.

The 24-year-old has been surviving on savings left over from her student loan to get by as an inheritance from a late relative has left her ineligible for support through universal credit. She has also sought support from disability charity Leonard Cheshire.

Emma has been chronicling her job-hunting efforts on her blog Invincible Woman on Wheels and told The Big Issue she believes employers must shift attitudes towards flexible working following the pandemic to make employment more inclusive to people living with disabilities.

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“What annoys me about corona is we have done all of the flexible things when we had to,” added Emma. “Disabled people have been fighting for this flexibility for years and then we needed to do it for everyone else and it happened in seconds. Can we not just keep it? 

“We always seem to be the ones who lose out. I don’t see why we’re the ones losing our jobs because if you need us to be flexible then have you met disabled people? We are flexible all the time, we work around everyone else’s schedule all the time.”

The widening disability employment gap uncovered in the Learning and Work Institute’s report shows a stark turnaround for the issue.

Before the pandemic, employment opportunities for disabled people had been improving. From 2013 to 2019, the employment rate of disabled people increased by 10 percentage points – an increase of 1.4 million disabled people in work.

But the report found disabled people have been hit hard by the pandemic. The research showed they were more likely to be temporarily away from paid work than their non-disabled counterparts, in part due to the furlough scheme.

Disabled people were also nearly twice as likely to be long term unemployed compared to non-disabled people by the end of 2020.

The Institute recommended the Westminster government improved access to jobs for disabled people through boosting working conditions and access to flexible working.

The Restart programme, being rolled out from summer 2021 to support long-term unemployed people should be central to that plan, the report argued.

The think tank also recommended the government’s Kickstart scheme be expanded to include disabled people over the age of 25 who are long-term unemployed.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute, said: “The government must make sure support to find jobs works better for disabled people than previous schemes, and work with employers to support disabled people to stay in work. We must ensure disabled people share fully in the economic recovery.”

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