The news that the disability pay gap widened to nearly 15% throughout 2021 serves as yet another example of the way in which disabled workers are consistently overlooked and underserved. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that disabled employees are earning, on average, almost £2 per hour less than their non-disabled colleagues. The report details that disabled employees with a mental impairment had the largest pay gap at 18.6%, whilst those with a physical impairment had a pay gap of 9.7%.
With the UK’s disabled population currently estimated at 14.1 million people, this demographic is by no means a silent minority. Despite this, the ONS findings add to the growing list of discriminations that the disabled community routinely face: from disproportionate redundancy rates to higher levels of long-term unemployment, the pandemic has brutally exposed the persistent belief that disabled lives are less valuable.
Last year, the ONS reported that a higher proportion of disabled employees were made redundant than their non-disabled counterparts. Between July to November 2020, 21.1 per thousand disabled employees were made redundant, compared to 13.0 per thousand employees who are not disabled. Their latest figures show that the disability pay gap has consistently been wider for disabled men than for disabled women; in 2021 median pay for disabled men was 12.4% less than non-disabled men, and median pay for disabled women was 10.5% less than non-disabled women. Leonard Cheshire, a leading UK disability charity, found that 7 in 10 disabled people employed in March 2020 had been impacted by loss of income, furlough, unemployment or other damaging effects as a result of the pandemic.
This wage inequality is symptomatic of a wider issue of representation within business. Earlier this month, the Guardian reported that in Australia there are loopholes in which people with disabilities are working for wages as low as $2.27 an hour. These demeaning wages are calculated using a tool that purports to measure ‘productivity’ of employees. The disability royal commission is currently investigating this, but sadly this is not an anomaly across the globe. Conversely, it can be argued that we are ‘heading’ in the right direction as conversations regarding disability inclusion are being had and tangible actions are being taken within the diversity and inclusion space. The Valuable 500’s commitment statements are a testament to that.
Understandably, a baseline needs to be established in order to monitor progression. However, if there is not a thorough regulatory body in place to examine the data – just how reliable are the findings? In order to build an accurate depiction of the disability pay gap companies need to know the number of disabled employees they have. With droves of people choosing not to self-identify/ disclose their disability – these findings need to be further examined. Moreover, simply reporting the proportion of disabled employees within the workplace will not provide any insight into the relative spread of those employees. It is possible that a company with 10% disabled employees may not be more inclusive than that of one with 7% disabled employees if all those employees are in entry level roles with little opportunity for progression.
It is also worth noting that these findings may not be a measure of workplace inclusion due to some disabled staff members preferring to have lower paid roles or reduced hours in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Inclusion is about choice, equitable investment of resources and leadership.
Ultimately, we need to move away from the medical model of disability as disabled people have proven, time and time again that we can and do add value. This isn’t merely a business case on the merits of capitalising on disabled talent – it is a human case. The time for excuses is over. Only by putting disabled staff and consumers at the heart of business strategies will companies rewrite the cultural narrative necessary to reverse the disability pay gap, embrace intersectionality and gage the extent to which it is reflected within business.