As winter tightens its grip, businesses can’t afford to ignore the disability pay gap a second longer
If a job description had mentioned that you would have had to work the final 54 days of this year unpaid, you would have likely turned it down. But this is the reality that people with disabilities in the UK have been facing in 2022. The disability pay gap works out to the equivalent of missing out on 54 days of pay per year – which significantly depletes their annual revenue, according to the latest analysis on the disability pay gap from the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
Figures released last month found that the disability pay gap has risen to 17.2 per cent in 2022, up from 16.5 per cent last year.
It’s another disappointing example of the persistent disenfranchisement that people with disabilities face. They were also found to be twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people.
The disability pay gap is not a new concept. Yet when contextualised in the current economic climate, it becomes more alarming than ever. For some people living with disabilities, the cost-of-living crisis could be desperate. They face a significantly higher cost of living, compounding the systemic ties between poverty and disability.
Being disabled is expensive. Specialist equipment is costly, suitable housing can be rare to come by and often comes at a premium. Public transport can be limiting and restrictive, so often people with disabilities have to resort to calling a taxi. The cost of buying certain foods to cater to auto-immune diseases can mount up – for example, gluten free products can cost three times the amount of regular options.
Many disabled workers are facing a grave winter. In October, the Office for National Statistics revealed that 55 per cent of disabled adults were struggling to afford their energy bills compared with 40 per cent of non-disabled people. Nearly half of everyone in poverty is either a disabled person or lives with a disabled person.
The findings from the TUC point to a depressing stagnation of progress. Disabled people account for 22 per cent of the UK population. As prominent as this community is, it remains largely unseen, underpaid or unemployed.
The TUC is calling for mandatory pay gap reporting – but this isn’t the entire solution. Moving straight to mandatory pay gap reporting is meaningless unless you firstly know the composition of your workforce and create a working environment that encourages those with disabilities to self-identify. We must create cultures of trust – heavy handed legislation and regulation are important, but will never be sufficient.
Business is a monumentally powerful force. A CEO can do in days what a government can only hope to achieve in years. It is the default position to call on government to enact change, but it is also time for business to step up. The private sector must consider their responsibility, nurturing an environment that allows disabled employees to work with their needs considered.
Not least because it benefits their bottom line too. Companies that hire disabled employees tend to outperform others. They experience 28 per cent higher revenues, lower turnover, and access to a wider talent pool. These companies are also 4 times more likely to enjoy higher shareholder returns.
Despite “diversity and inclusion” and “ESG” targets blossoming on board agendas, disability is often excluded from strategies and initiatives. An “a la carte” approach is unacceptable – you can’t pick and choose one form of inclusion over another.
Investing in employees with disabilities to empower them to progress through the hierarchy into leadership positions in the workplace is crucial. There is no place for archaic pay gaps that ostracise the disabled community anymore.