Why do we have a disability pay gap? - Inclusive Employers

Why do we have a disability pay gap?

As we raise awareness of disability in the workplace for Disability Pride Month, the Walters Report finds that only a third of disabled people are earning over the national average (£30,000) compared to half of the wider population. Carol Buchanan, Senior Inclusion & Diversity Consultant at Inclusive Employers, explores why this disability pay gap exists.

The stereotype of disabled people still isn’t a positive one. Even after the campaigns showcasing our amazing Paralympic athletes, and the monumental shift in imagery of disabled people – just Google disability to see a range of positive imagery – the negative bias persists. One manager I spoke to recently said ‘It’s all good talking about increasing diversity, but when it comes to disabled people, is it really fair to ask others to pick up the slack?’

That may shock some of you. The assumption that disabled people are going to deliver less persists with many managers, and almost a third of disabled people worry that this is true. The facts tell us a different story.

Disabled and neurodiverse people (with conditions such as Dyslexia, ADHD and Autism) actually take fewer sick days on average then non-disabled peers, are more engaged and more loyal to their organisation. They are also more resilient, having had to overcome societal prejudice, and work through education and working environments which aren’t designed with their needs in mind.   

Workplace inequity still exists for all marginalised identities; however the Group behind the Walters Report concluded that the disabled community as employees are disproportionately affected by imbalances in the workplace. 

Surely the law will level the playing field – no, it hasn’t

The Equalities Act 2010 means direct discrimination against people who are disabled and neurodiverse is unlawful. In fact, for this group, the act goes further. Section 13 specifically recognises disabled people as ‘one of the most marginalised groups in our society’ therefore affords additional support through positive action approaches which employers can take. It also provides for reasonable adjustments to level the playing field in work environments which are designed for the non-disabled, neurotypical majority.

Yet the stats tell us that disabled people are still disproportionality under employed – with only 1 in 2 disabled people in work compared to 4 in 5 nondisabled people in the working age population. And while more of this group are economically inactive, the unemployment rate is still nearly double non-disabled peers.

The employment rate for disabled people is 52.50%, while it's 81.10% for non disabled people. The unemployment rate for disabled people is 8.40%, while it's 4.60% for non disabled people. The economic inactivity rate is 42.90% for disabled people, while it's 14.90% for non disabled people.

Source: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7540/

What’s more, disabled people in employment are 22% more likely to identify lack of diversity in their organisation as a barrier to progression.

Why it matters

There are over 14 million disabled and neurodiverse people in the UK. That’s:

  • 8% of UK children
  • 20% of working age adults and
  • 46% of pension age adults

You’ll notice those figures are increasing with age. More of us develop disabilities throughout our lives. Everyone will know someone, have a close friend or relative who is or will be disabled at some point in their lives. You may become disabled.

We are talking about a large proportion of the population, yet this group are more likely to live in poverty. On average disabled people face extra costs of £583 per month, equivalent to almost half of their income. They are also twice as likely to be unemployed and almost 20% more likely to be under the average UK.

Yet diverse organisations and teams consistently outperform their non-diverse peers. Having disabled and neurodiverse people inside your organisation will help you better understand your customers and cater to the needs of almost a quarter of the UK’s population (24% identify as within this group), with a total spending power of families with at least one disabled person estimated at £274 billion a year. It will also help your organisation to become more innovative and agile.  

And, besides all this, including everyone is just the right thing to do.

So, how can inclusive employers address the balance?

1. Talk about it

Talking about difference can be challenging for many reasons, fear of getting it wrong, of offending someone or being judged. Yet talking about inclusion and using inclusive language is a critical starting point for good discussions about accessibility and disability inclusion.

Organisations who lack diversity are particularly impacted by a lack of inclusive language through lack of representation. If we don’t take specific action to create safe spaces, provide training for and encourage inclusive language and conversations organisations who lack diversity are left behind the inclusion curve. When we feel safe to talk about difference, we become more proactive in identifying and removing accessibility barriers.

2. Look at this like an opportunity

We are facing, what some commentators have called the ‘great resignation’. Employees are leaving their employers in droves. Role vacancies have peeked – with no end in sight. Smart employers can use their newly developed capabilities in remote and virtual working to tap into the talent pool of disabled candidates, making accessibility for many easier than it’s ever been. 

Disabled people are consistently underrepresented in all senior roles. Change will not happen without action.

3. Understand your Disability Pay Gap

Look at your organisations Disability Pay Gap. Are disabled employees progressing through your organisation? If not, explore the barriers and take action to mitigate these and close the gap.

Members, please take a look at our disability resources including our full Disability Package or speak to your Account Manager for more support.

To learn more about how to make inclusion an everyday reality for your disabled colleagues, book onto our Disability in the workplace webinar.


Scope – Disability Facts and Figures

House of Commons Library – Disabled People in Employment

Learning Disability Today – Disability in the Workplace: The Walters Report 2021