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July 2023: Work Foundation blog - Disability Pride month

Aman Navani is an Analyst at the Work Foundation where he contributes to the research on insecure work in the UK. To mark Disability Pride Month, he gives us an insight into the research he is doing on the disability employment gap and what we, as employers, can do to change it.

Disabled people face multiple forms of labour market disadvantage

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The disability employment gap has been at the centre of the Government’s attention in recent years. It pledged to get one million disabled people into work by 2027 and managed to achieve its goal in 2022. While this is a positive development, disabled people face other forms of labour market disadvantage. New analysis from the Work Foundation finds that disabled workers are more likely to be in severely insecure work relative to non-disabled workers.

Long periods in insecure work can discourage disabled people from participating in the labour market, worsen their existing conditions, and heighten the risk of unemployment and leaving the labour market altogether. At a time when many sectors, including local government, are facing recruitment and retention crises, creating a more enabling environment at work is a win-win for disabled workers and employers.

The disability insecurity gap: What the data tells us

Using the Work Foundation’s UK Insecure Work Index and data from the Labour Force Survey, we find that disabled workers are 1.5 times more likely to be in severely insecure work compared to their non-disabled peers with 1.3 million disabled workers in the UK trapped in severely insecure work. Disabled workers are more likely to experience both contractual insecurity, which includes involuntary part-time and temporary work, and forms of financial insecurity like low pay and variable hours. While some disabled workers may work part-time or fewer hours to manage their condition, our analysis also find that 430,000 disabled people are underemployed, which means that they would like to work more hours.

Moreover, some groups of disabled workers are more likely to be in severely insecure work. Female disabled workers are 2.2 times more likely to be in severely insecure work than disabled men while a higher proportion of Black and Asian ethnic minority workers are in insecure work compared to white disabled workers (29 per cent to 26 per cent).

The disability insecurity gap exists because disabled workers are overrepresented in low paying and insecure occupations and are underrepresented in more secure occupations like managerial and professional services. However, the insecurity gap persists even in more senior and relative secure roles. These results underline how pervasive the experience of insecure work is for disabled workers across the labour market.

What can employers do?

Flexible working arrangements such as working from home can be hugely beneficial to disabled workers and can help them to better manage their disability and stay in work. While employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010, many disabled people might prefer not to share their disability, especially if it is a recently acquired condition or if they are starting a new role. Employers should consider making flexible working a default which would enable disabled workers to benefit from this arrangement even if they choose not to share their disability.

Employers should also ensure that disabled workers can access the same professional development opportunities as their non-disabled colleagues. Research highlights that employers can sometimes be reluctant to trust disabled workers with high-profile and high-value projects. Our data backs this up as disabled works in senior roles are more likely to want to work more hours relative to non-disabled workers. This shows there is clearly more work to do in challenging our stereotypes and biases about disabled people at work. 

Disabled workers face multiple forms of insecurity. Tackling this insecurity gap will enable them to fulfil their potential at work which in turn will benefit the organisations they work at too.

The LGA’s Diverse by Design guide helps organisations understand their employment practices in the broader context of EDI and what action is needed for meaningful and sustainable change, together with a range of practical tools and advice to help build fairer and more inclusive workplaces.