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The disability pay gap: Warm words just won’t cut it

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Voluntary reporting isn’t enough – we need mandatory action now

The TUC’s annual disabled workers’ conference starts in Bournemouth today. And as disabled people gather on the sunny Dorset coast, the disability pay gap will once again be high up the agenda.

What’s the problem?

Analysis by the TUC at the end of last year found that the average disability pay gap stands at around 15%. That’s the equivalent of being paid nearly £3k (£,2,821) less a year.

And the pay penalty is even higher for some disabled people - those with ‘depression or bad nerves’ are paid around 26% less, and those with’ mental illness, phobia or panics’ are paid on average nearly 30% less than non-disabled people.

So disabled people are facing a double whammy at work. Not only do they face a disability employment gap with disabled people having an employment rate that is 30% lower than their non-disabled peers but when they do secure employment, they’re paid less.

What action is the government taking?

The government has committed to getting 1 million more disabled people into work. To achieve this, ministers need to make serious moves on taking away the barriers that are preventing disabled people from getting a job – and do much more to close the pay gap that is lurking for them once they do.

But instead of taking decisive action, the government has played it safe. Last year, it launched a two-page voluntary reporting framework calling on large employers to report on the number of disabled employees they employ.

Sounds good doesn’t it? But the key word here is voluntary. Employers will be under no obligation to do the right thing and report their disability pay gaps.

What’s wrong with voluntary reporting?

Given the government’s commitment to addressing the disability pay gap, it is unclear why it has introduced a voluntary reporting framework. Because sadly the evidence shows that warm words, aspirations and voluntary schemes that coax employers to think about change just don’t cut it.

A voluntary scheme for gender pay gap reporting introduced by the coalition government saw 280 businesses sign up, but only 5 businesses actually went on to publish their data. However, when mandatory reporting was introduced more than 10,000 employers reported their gender pay gap – close to 100% compliance.

Disabled people deserve more than a voluntary approach – they have waited long enough for fair and equal treatment.

Without a legally binding requirement on companies to publish their pay gaps – and what action they are taking to address them – progress will be too slow and disabled workers will be consigned to many more years of lower pay and unfair barriers to getting jobs and progressing at work.

Being open and transparent about pay means bosses have toidentify and address poor workplace practices that lead to inequality. Mandatory gender pay gap reporting has shone a light on the problems there – and it’s also one of the reasons why the government is consulting on the introduction of mandatory reporting on the ethnicity pay gap.

So if compulsory transparency is seen as a positive way of addressing gender and race pay disparities, then why isn’t it being applied to disabled workers too?

So what do we need instead?

Disabled people deserve the same level of transparency as is legally required on gender - and soon to be required on race. They shouldn’t have to wait years for yet another voluntary reporting scheme to deliver predictably dismal results. We also know that disabled women face the largest pay gap. Sointroducing a requirement to collect and report data on disabled people’s pay will help employers identify and address important intersectional issues.

That’s why the TUC is calling on the government to consult on and introduce a statutory requirement for employers to report on their disability pay gaps and employment rates. This needs to be accompanied by mandatory targeted action plans identifying the steps employers will take to address any identified gaps, including ensuring employees with hidden disabilities feel able to disclose their disability.

Because disabled workers shouldn’t have to wait years for this voluntary reporting scheme to fail. They deserve fair pay now.

And my advice to disabled workers worried about their career and pay is to join a union. Union reps have experience negotiating with employers to get the support all workers need.