Social Justice

Disability pay gap sees disabled workers earn £1.93 per hour less than non-disabled employees

"Life costs more if you are disabled. Yet many disabled workers don’t get paid fairly, or have the same opportunities to progress their careers."

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Disabled workers are now paid 13.8 per cent less on average each year than non-disabled workers, new figures show, sparking fresh calls for mandatory disability pay gap reporting.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show non-disabled employees earn a median of £14.03 per hour, and disabled employees earn a median of £12.10 per hour, or £1.93 less per hour – a gap of over £3,500 per year based on a 35-hour week.

The disability pay gap has widened since 2014, when disabled employees earnt 11.7 per cent less than non-disabled employees – but has fallen slightly, since last year’s figure of 16.5 per cent.

TUC polling published last November revealed that 40 per cent of disabled workers have been pushed into financial hardship over the last year during the pandemic. 

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Disabled workers were among the hardest hit during the pandemic. And now millions of disabled workers face a living standards emergency – with lower pay than non-disabled workers, but higher energy and transport costs. 

“With bills and prices sky-rocketing, the government must act now to help disabled workers and all struggling families. 

“That means coming back to parliament with an emergency budget to boost pay and universal credit, and cut energy bills. Disabled workers deserve better. It’s time for big employers to be forced to publish their disability pay gaps, to help shine a light on poor workplace practices that fuel inequality at work. Otherwise, millions of disabled workers will continue to face lower pay and in-work poverty.”  

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, there are nine million working age people with a disability, and approximately half are in work, compared to 80 per cent without a disability.

Many disabled people face a range of barriers to getting and staying in work, for example due to a lack of transport or inadequate equipment, alongside unlawful discrimination, structural barriers and negative attitudes.

A higher proportion of disabled people than non-disabled people also work part-time, with such jobs paying less per hour than full-time jobs.  

TUC also believes the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should get specific funding to enforce disabled workers’ rights to reasonable adjustments and should update their statutory code of practice to include more examples of reasonable adjustments. This will help lawyers, advisers, union reps and human resources departments apply the law properly.

Louise Rubin, head of policy at disability equality charity Scope, told The Big Issue: “It’s completely unacceptable that disabled people continue to be underpaid and undervalued.  

“Life costs more if you are disabled. Yet many disabled workers don’t get paid fairly, or have the same opportunities to progress their careers.

“Far too many disabled workers face discrimination, stigma and barriers such as inflexible working practices.

“Employers need to make sure that their working practices are as accessible and inclusive as possible so disabled employees can thrive. This could include measures such as remote working and flexible hours, as well as having accountability for attracting and supporting disabled talent at all levels of their organisation.

“ What gets measured gets done, so employers should gather and report on data about disability, including pay. In the long term, we hope that employers will continue to embrace the model of flexible working, and acknowledge the benefits for disabled people and employers of creating and sustaining a diverse workplace.”

The ONS figures, published on Monday, surveyed approximately 50,000 individuals, and also reveal the disability pay gap is consistently wider for disabled men, than disabled women; in 2021 median pay for disabled men was 12.4 per cent less than non-disabled men, and median pay for disabled women was 10.5 per cent less than non-disabled women.

Disabled employees who were limited a lot in their day-to-day activities had a wider pay gap than disabled employees whose day-to-day activities were limited a little – 19.9 per cent and 12.1 per cent respectively in 2021.

The pay gap becomes smaller for disabled employees with most major types of impairments, when adjusting statistically for pay using characteristics such as occupation, qualifications or age. Those with autism have the largest narrowing in their pay gap.

The research also showed that disabled employees aged 16 to 19 have seen their pay gap decrease from 7.7 per cent in 2014, to 0.3 per cent in 2021. It’s thought this is due to changes in the minimum wage legislation, which is more likely to have impacted this age group as opposed to older workers.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman told The Big Issue: “We are committed to ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to thrive in the workplace, and have made great progress. We currently have the highest disability employment on record, with 4.4 million disabled people in work.

“The Health and Disability Support Green Paper and the Health is Everyone’s Business response together reflect this Government’s commitment to supporting disabled people and those with long-term health conditions to live full and independent lives, including through employment and in work progression, and a range of DWP initiatives are currently supporting disabled people to start, stay and succeed in work.”

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