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Disabled workers paid £3,458 less per year than non-disabled colleagues, research finds

Disabled workers continue to be undervalued both in-work and while applying for work, as union calls for mandatory gender pay gap reporting.

A woman in a wheelchair sits by a reception desk while talking to a

A wheelchair seated woman speaks to a customer at a reception desk. Image: Unsplash / @cdc

The Trades Union Congress is calling for mandatory disability pay gap reporting as new research finds disabled workers are now paid 16.5 per cent less on average each year than non-disabled workers.

Tuesday November 9 has been calculated by the TUC as disability pay gap day for 2021, the day on which disabled workers effectively stop getting paid and work for free for the last 52 days of the year.

The TUC analysis shows that non-disabled employees earn on average £1.90 an hour (16.5 per cent) more than disabled employees – or £3,458 more a year based on a 35-hour week.

“We know that life costs more if you are disabled, and it’s completely unacceptable that disabled people continue to be underpaid and undervalued,” said Louise Rubin, head of policy at disability equality charity Scope.

“At the very least we need to everything we can to make sure disabled people thrive in work.” 

Disabled workers were twice as likely to have had to visit a food bank than non-disabled workers, according to the TUC research which also found that disabled workers have been “hit hardest” financially by Covid-19 pandemic. 

The research surveyed 2,134 workers in England and Wales, finding that disabled women face an even bigger pay gap, with non-disabled men paid on average 32 per cent (£3.50 an hour, or around £6,370 a year) more than disabled women.

This is because a higher proportion of disabled people work part-time compared to non-disabled people and part-time jobs often pay less per hour than full-time jobs. Disabled people are also over-represented in lower paid jobs like caring, leisure and other services and sales and customer services. 

As the pandemic has squeezed businesses, one in five employers said they would be less likely to employ a disabled person than a non-disabled person, according to research commissioned by disability charity Leonard Cheshire, based on interviews with 518 line managers.

“Most employers, when they get a CV from a disabled person, the sad truth is they don’t even look twice, they just think ‘that’s going to be costly,’” said Amrit Dhaliwal, a mother of two from west London who is registered blind and has been long-term unemployed. 

Despite her qualifications as a trained psychologist and counsellor, Dhaliwal has struggled to find any paid work that accommodates her disability.

Dhaliwal has tried to gain work experience as a disability awareness trainer, but says she was turned down from one organisation because they couldn’t accommodate her disability.

“They had desks all over the place and said that it wouldn’t be safe for me as a blind person. And I was just looking for voluntary work,” she said.

“Financially, I need to work. And I just feel that I’m being wasted.”

“I’m a disabled person that doesn’t want to be on benefits. I want to work, and I want to contribute to the labour market. I could make a difference and I could do really well,” she continued.

The TUC and Leonard Cheshire are urging the government to close the disability employment and pay gap and ensure disabled people “gain and retain” quality employment.

“Disabled people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and employment support is vital to ensure they’re not further left behind,” said Gemma Hope, director of policy at Leonard Cheshire.

“Our research also suggests stubborn levels of stigma amongst employers and that young disabled people remain adrift in the current job market.” 

“We call on government to increase efforts to support disabled job seekers and recruiters to continue working with us in recognising the depth of talent available.”

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