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The disability pay gap is at a four-year high – ministers must act now

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Disabled workers in the UK earn £1.50 less than their peers for every hour worked. It’s time to get serious about tackling the disability pay gap
Steve Gallin and a worker at their upholstery business in Exeter
Steve Gallin, a CommunityUnion rep helped set up an upholstery and manufacturing business in Exeter to keep people with disabilities in work.

According to a TUC report published today, disabled workers in the UK are facing a double whammy of discrimination in the labour market.

Our research shows that the disability pay gap now stands at 15 per cent – a shocking £2,730 a year for someone working 35 hours a week.

That's the highest since the government began publishing comparable data in 2012-13.

We also found that disabled people are significantly less likely to be in work than non-disabled workers.

According to our analysis, the number of disabled people in work has increased by almost 600,000 since 2013, but their unemployment rate is still over 50 per cent higher than it is for non-disabled peers.

As the second day of the TUC Disabled Workers Conference gets underway, we’re calling on the government to get serious about tackling this problem.

We want ministers to reverse cuts to disability benefits and consult on whether employers should have to publish their disability pay gap.

And the government must start working with trade unions and disabled people themselves so we can end the shameful discrimination against disabled workers in this country.

What do the figures show?

Put simply, the numbers show that pay disparity for disabled people has persisted for decades.

The chart below shows the disability pay gap as a percentage of the average disabled person’s income.

A change in the classification used to report disabilities means we can’t make direct comparisons with earlier data, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission calculates the gap was 13 per cent for men and 7 per cent for women from 1997 to 2014.

Our analysis finds a very similar average from 2013 to 2017 (13.7 per cent for men and 7.7 per cent for women). In other words, very little has changed over the last 20 years.

Chart showing the disability pay gap since 2013
The disability pay gap is real - and rising

Although the gap between disabled and non-disabled women is smaller than the disability pay gap among men, it is disabled women who suffer the most.

The combined effect of the gender and disability pay gaps means that disabled women earned 22.1 per cent (or £3.40 an hour) less on average than their non-disabled male peers in the latest figures.

So what’s going on?

The gap is partly explained by the higher number of disabled people in part-time roles, which have lower average hourly pay than full-time jobs.

While fewer than one in four non-disabled employees (23.4 per cent) work part-time, the figure rises to more than one in three (36.3 per cent) for disabled workers.

Disabled people are also less likely to have a degree than their non-disabled peers, but this only explains a fraction of the gap.

The average disability pay gap for workers without degrees between 2013 and 2017 was 9.2 per cent, and for degree holders it was 6.6 per cent.

Another important factor is the fact that disabled people are significantly underrepresented in better paid types of job.

Less than 1 in 10 managers and directors has a disability, but the proportion rises to 1 in 7 for carers, shopworkers and those in ‘elementary occupations’ – the lowest paid occupational groups.

How can we close the gap?

The government needs to work with employers, disabled people and trade unions to reduce the barriers that disabled people face in finding work, and the discrimination that holds them back when they do.

Reversing the damaging cuts to disability benefits, which have cost some households as much as £10,000 a year, would be a good start.

Financial support through Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments is vital for meeting the extra costs many disabled people face in going to work.

Reporting requirements for employers similar to those introduced for the gender pay gap would also make a huge difference.

These would prompt employers to do more to meet their obligations under the Equality Act to put in place reasonable adjustments for disabled workers.

It could also encourage them to offer more high-quality jobs on a flexible or part-time basis, which would help weaken the link between part-time working and low pay.

These actions would send a signal that the government believes disabled workers have the same rights to a good job with decent pay as anyone else.

Sadly, our latest report shows that this is far from the case at the moment. Ministers should be ashamed.

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