Campaigners call on UK government to tackle disability discrimination
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Disability discrimination

Leading UK disability organisations, including charities, academics, and trade unions, have urged the government to take more action to end employment discrimination against disabled people. 

Following the publication of the government’s National Disability Strategy earlier this year, the group has launched a Disability Employment Charter to outline the steps government and employers must take to address the disadvantage disabled people experience in UK workplaces. 

The charter calls on the government to increase workforce transparency by requiring large employers to publish annual data on the number of disabled people they employ as a proportion of their workforce, and their pay gaps. 

Further proposals for reform include the option to work flexibly from day one to become the legal default for all jobs, stronger rights to paid disability leave for assessment, rehabilitation and training, improvements to the Disability Confident and Access to Work schemes, and an increase in statutory sick pay to the European average. 

The charter also calls for employers to notify employees on decisions regarding reasonable adjustment requests within two weeks.

“Disabled workers often wait far too long for even the most simple of workplace adjustments to be put in place. The government should give employers a two-week deadline to agree the required changes to offices and equipment. This would help prevent employees leaving their roles frustrated at lengthy delays,” said Unison general secretary Christina McAnea.  

Also commenting on the charter, Kamran Malik, CEO of Disability Rights UK, said: “Disabled people face a range of hurdles in finding and progressing in work, which just shouldn’t be there. The charter simply and powerfully sets out the concerted actions that government needs to take to move the dial forward. It’s not enough to tinker round the edges, we need a bold plan to bring down the barriers.”    

The National Disability Strategy was heralded by the government as a chance to “build back better and fairer for all our disabled people”. However, the charter argues more needs to be done to reduce the disability employment gap, and calls on the government to bring forward detailed proposals to tackle the employment disadvantage disabled people face.

The charter also argues that addressing the barriers disabled people encounter in employment is not only the right thing to do, but also makes business sense by giving employers access to the widest talent pool and helping them address skills shortages, thereby enabling disabled workers to contribute to the post-covid recovery. 

Professor Kim Hoque, co-founder of Disability@Work, and one of the charter’s creators, described the charter as “a powerful and timely message to government from the country’s leading organisations representing disabled people that there is an overwhelming need for more robust government action, and broad consensus regarding the form this action should take”.

The government’s National Disability Strategy, launched this year, was criticised by some disability rights campaigners, and even the members of the Conservative party, as falling short of the transformational plan many expected.

Conservative Peer Lord Shinkwin, who is also chair of the Centre for Social Justice Disability Commission, has previously described the plans as a “damp squib”. 

“The government should stop using business as a feeble fig leaf for inaction and instead celebrate the example some corporates are already setting,” said Lord Shinkwin.

“Transparent and consistent data reporting, the lead call of this charter, is the first step towards building a level playing field on which businesses can compete for top disabled talent.

“It’s time the government built on the success of gender pay gap reporting and realised the potential of this tool to bring about true meritocracy and equality of opportunity.”  

Currently, disabled people face a disability employment gap that has remained persistently high over the past decade at 30 percentage points and a pay gap of 19.6%, alongside poorer work-life balance, job-related mental health, and job satisfaction. 

Disabled people have also been particularly negatively affected by the pandemic: 21 in every 1,000 disabled people were made redundant in 2020, compared to 13 in every thousand for the rest of the population. 

Gemma Hope, director of policy at Leonard Cheshire, commented: “Disabled people’s work-life has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. With the labour market slowly improving the government must close the disability employment gap so disabled people are not further left behind.”