Out-Law Analysis 2 min. read

Understanding the pay gap faced by disabled workers

As employers mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December and support the global ‘Positively Purple’ movement which celebrates the contribution of disabled employees across the world, recent TUC analysis shows the UK pay gap between non-disabled and disabled workers.

According to the TUC’s data, the pay gap is currently higher than it was 10 years ago, with non-disabled workers earning approximately 14.6% more than disabled workers.

A lack of flexibility 

As with the gender pay gap, one of the root causes of this significant disability pay gap is the lack of flexible working opportunities for more senior or well-paid roles. Greater flexibility is often something that improves the ability for people with disabilities to carry out a role, whether that be in terms of working hours and arrangements, location or other adjustments that can – and legally should – reasonably be made. Failure to offer this flexibility in more senior or well-paid roles can contribute to the gap. 

Part time roles 

Recent data from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also suggests that there is a greater concentration – nearly 1 in 3 – of people with disabilities working part time roles. This compares to 21.8% of non-disabled workers. This disparity may be because part time roles enable persons with disabilities to manage any conditions that they have more effectively, though the lack of flexible working opportunities identified in the TUC data could also be a factor. Whatever the reasons, the higher concentration of people with disabilities working part time roles helps contribute to the pay gap. 

Employer discrimination 

Some employers are still reluctant to hire or promote people with disabilities, whether because of discriminatory perceptions about ability and reliability, or because making adjustments and accommodating people with disabilities is wrongly considered to be more difficult and costly than hiring people without disabilities. 

Barriers to education 

There is evidence to suggest that people with disabilities have lower levels of qualification when compared with non-disabled workers because of barriers in education and training. These barriers can include the inaccessibility of educational premises, a lack of reasonable adjustments available to students, and negative attitudes and stereotypes about disabled people in education. The lower level of qualification of disabled people may well flow into a lack of representation in more qualified, well paid and senior roles. 

The disability employment gap 

There is also a disability employment gap, most recently reported in October 2023 by the DWP as 28.9% – that being the difference in how many persons with disabilities are in work, compared to those persons without a disability. The disability employment gap is 4.2% lower than it was a decade ago, but, notably, the Covid-19 pandemic stalled the progress of the closing of the gap and reversed the trend. Entry into the workplace in itself remains a significant challenge. 

The autumn statement included an announcement that the government’s ‘fit for work’ scheme is going to be changed so that, over time, the number of new claimants deemed unable to work will be halved, the long-term unemployed will face mandatory job placements and sanctions will be strengthened. The planned reforms have sparked concerns that the needs of people with disabilities are not being properly considered. Whilst encouraging and supporting a reduction in the disability employment gap should be welcomed, there is a risk of this being at the cost of the health and wellbeing of people with disabilities. 

The lack of good data 

The lack of good data is also a relevant factor. People with disabilities are often still reluctant to disclose for the purposes of data collection. That may be because they do not consider themselves to be disabled. Neurodivergent people, in particular, can consider their difference as an ‘ability’ not a ‘disability’ – meaning that the figures collected are not wholly reliable. 

How ‘disability’ is defined and described for the purpose of data collection is something to be carefully considered. It may also simply be the case that significant numbers of people do not disclose their disabilities because of the stigma associated with disability in the workplace and fear of discrimination. 

Co-written by Daniel Breerton of Pinsent Masons.  

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