Why a light touch approach to the disability pay gap fails disabled workers

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Published date
10 Dec 2018
Voluntary reporting on pay gaps often ends in disaster - we need mandatory reporting now.

Every year UK Disability History Month creates a platform to focus on the history of the struggle for disability rights and equality.

The event, which runs between 22 November and 22 December, also shows that this struggle is still going on today.

Disabled workers know this very well – and our analysis of the labour force survey (LFS) shows just how far we still have to go.

A growing gap

Disability pay gap is now 15.2 per cent on average (the equivalent of being paid £2,821 less a year).

The pay gulf is even higher for some disabled people, with the LFS showing those with ‘depression or bad nerves’ are paid on average 26.3 per cent less or those with’ mental illness, phobia or panics’ are paid on average 29.8 per cent less.

The LFS also shows disabled people face huge barriers getting into work, with just half (50.5%) of disabled people in work compared to four-fifths (81.1%) of non-disabled people. And progress in addressing this gap being painfully slow.

We believe that every disabled person who wants to work should be able to.

But at the moment disabled people face double discrimination in the workplace – they are less likely to be in work, and when they are they earn less than their non-disabled peer.

And this at a time when the government has committed to get 1 million more disabled people into work.

Half measures

If the government really wants to help disabled people into work, it must tear down the barriers that are preventing them from getting a job and do much more to close the pay gap that confronts them once they do.

But instead of taking decisive action, the government has played it safe.

Last month, the government launched a two-page voluntary reporting framework calling on large employers to report on the number of disabled employees they employ.

The key word here is voluntary – meaning employers will still be under no obligation to do the right thing.

That’s a shame, because transparency in reporting is essential to addressing the workplace barriers disabled people face.

It forces employers to identify and address poor workplace practices that engrain inequality, and it’s one of the driving forces behind the gender pay gap reporting.

It’s also one of the reasons why the government is consulting on the introduction of mandatory reporting on race.

This all begs the question: if compulsory transparency is a way of addressing gender and race pay disparities, then why isn’t it being applied to disabled workers too?

Mandatory reporting

The TUC believes disabled people deserve the same level of transparency as statutorily required on gender and soon to be required on race.

That’s why we, and groups like the Equality and Human Rights Commission, have recommended the government to consult on and introduce a statutory requirement for employers to report on their disability pay gaps and employment rates.

We don’t make this recommendation lightly – we make it in the knowledge that a light touch approach to reporting will not address the problem.

After all, previous attempts by the government to take a voluntary approach have ended in disaster.

For example, before mandatory reporting on the gender pay gap was introduced, we had to rely on ‘Think, Act, Report?’, a Government Equalities Office voluntary approach for employers to report on their gender pay gap.

280 businesses signed up, but only 5 businesses went on to publish their data.

This failed attempt at voluntarism lasted for 3 to 4 years until the penny finally dropped and the government put in place a legal requirement for large employers to report on their gender pay gap. And it admitted that when it came to ethnicity pay reporting there were times when “significant change is needed, stronger action is required”.

Time for stronger action

Given the government’s commitment to addressing the disability pay gap, it is unclear why it has again introduced a voluntary reporting framework.

Disabled people have waited long enough for fair and equal treatment.

They should not have to wait another 3 or 4 years at least for yet another voluntary reporting scheme to fail.

They deserve equal levels of transparency on the disability employment and pay gap today.