Do you collect disability workforce data? There is a voluntary framework for employers to follow, but awareness of it is very low.
This is in the news because, further to its National Disability Strategy published in July last year, the Government is now consulting on disability workforce reporting, including the case for mandatory reporting by large employers, those with 250 or more employees. The government is seeking views on the current voluntary framework and how the level of reporting could be increased to help its central aim of increasing transparency to make workplaces across the UK more welcoming, supportive and open environments. The government says transparency and reporting are effective levers in driving the culture change required to build a more inclusive society.
Currently the UK operates under a voluntary framework but awareness of it is very low. Back in April last year research by the CIPD found that only 21% of respondents were aware of the framework and, of those, only 37% had implemented at least part of it. The voluntary framework was set up by the government in 2018 following the independent Thriving at Work review conducted by Paul Farmer and Lord Dennis Stevenson, published in October 2017 recommending that employers should report more information about their actions on workplace mental health on a voluntary basis. Under the framework, employers are encouraged to report on two metrics. First, a narrative to explain the activities in their organisation in relation to the recruitment and retention of disabled people. Secondly, reporting the percentage of individuals within the organisation who consider themselves to be disabled or have a long term physical or mental health condition.
Importantly, the framework addresses the tricky issue of data gathering. It says ‘Collection of information could be completed through employees updating self-service HR records or anonymous staff surveys. It is recommended that you publish both sources, if held. Please explain where data was collected. It is important to be transparent with employees about data usage, handling, and storage.’
We fully endorse that approach and it’s a point made by Amy Hextell in her article ‘UK explores disability workforce reporting requirements’. She says: ‘practically speaking good data in relation to disability within the workforce is difficult to obtain, not least because there is still stigma around disclosing a disability at work’ but, she says, the answer lies with improving disability inclusion at work and demonstrating to a disabled workforce that this is about more than simply meeting legal obligations.’
So let’s hear more about that approach. Amy joined me by video-link from Birmingham to discuss the issue:
Amy Hextell: “This consultation that the government has launched is part of its National Disability Strategy and it's not just looking at things like pay gap reporting, although that does form part of it, it's taking a broader view and wanting to get a view from employees and employers on disability inclusion. One of the real challenges, and we saw this less so with gender pay gap reporting, but more so as lots of organisations have, on a voluntary basis, looked to report on things like race and ethnicity pay gaps or other metrics that aren't to do with pay within their organisations is having the data there. I think there's an initial challenge with ensuring that people are disclosing this information to you to be able to then put forward a meaningful explanation of what the data means, what it shows, and what you as an employer are going to do about it. The real challenge is people are less likely, probably, to declare that they have a disability if you're not operating in a way which ensures they feel included. So taking some of the practical action steps to ensure better disability inclusion is likely to mean that those people who do have a disability might be more open about that fact, if you are then gathering data, whether that be on a voluntary basis or whether it be as a result of legislation, which is certainly not looking likely to be enforced anytime soon but it is the direction of travel and I think what this consultation has highlighted, and is indicating, is that the government wants employers to be looking at this. So taking those practical action steps now will not only mean that you are meeting legal requirements but it means that you'll be in a better place, hopefully, if and when you choose to voluntarily report or there are any reporting requirements put in place.”
The government’s consultation on disability workforce reporting will be running until 25 March. The Government has indicated that it expects to publish its response to the consultation by 17 June 2022 which is a relatively quick turnaround which perhaps indicates cates they have one eye on the possibility of introducing provisions for mandatory reporting in the long-awaited Employment Bill, but we will see. You may have views on that, in which case you can have your say - the consultation paper sets out the different ways you can respond, including by way of an online survey. We have put a link to the consultation paper in the transcript of this programme.