Narrowing the UK disability employment gap: help wanted - RSA

Narrowing the UK disability employment gap: help wanted


  • Picture of Jane Hatton
    Jane Hatton
    I am a disabled businesswoman running a social enterprise called Evenbreak.
  • Future of Work
  • Employment
  • Social mobility

Jane Hatton FRSA is one of a group of Fellows examining the barriers faced by disabled people and people with long-term health conditions in the workplace. She describes how Fellows can help input into their project by answering a short questionnaire.

The group is asking RSA Fellows to answer a short questionnaire with questions relating to your workplace, and your perception of its performance and attitude regarding disability. The results will be anonymised, with the data being aggregated and then shared with the group so they may write up the findings and work on future activity. 

Benjamin Harvey FRSA recently created the Fellow-led Disability Group, with the aim of exploring how to increase the engagement of disabled people in the workplace. Disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people in the UK, and the disability employment gap (the difference between the proportion of disabled and non-disabled people in employment) has remained stubbornly at around 30% for many years. 

The group is aware that there are many commercial benefits for businesses to employ more disabled people, as well as wider societal benefits. Disabled people are, on average, just as productive as non-disabled people. On average, disabled employees have significantly less time off sick, fewer workplace accidents, and greater retention rates than their non-disabled colleagues. Having internal intelligence about disabled people can help public sector bodies have a greater understanding about their disabled service users, and can help private businesses gain access to the £249 billion a year that disabled customers and their families spend in the UK alone.  

Disabled people often learn skills required in order to survive in a world not designed for them, such as tenacity, creative problem-solving skills and planning – all useful traits for employers to access. Some disabled people bring skills with them that are specific to their particular impairment, for example, some people with mental health conditions are exceptionally creative, some people with autism are great at detail and spotting patterns in data, some people with hearing loss are good at reading body language, and so on. 

The benefits of having a diverse workforce are well-documented, and disability forms an important part of that diversity. All this is evidenced, and yet it is still the case that disabled people are not enjoying the same access to the workplace as the rest of the population.  

There are many barriers which can prevent disabled people from gaining access to meaningful paid work, and the Disability Group is looking to carry out some research to identify those barriers within organisations themselves. Barriers are usually not deliberately put in place to exclude disabled people from work, but whatever the intention, these barriers clearly exist. 

Identifying barriers, and then exploring ways those barriers could be reduced or eliminated altogether, seems a positive way to address at least part of the causes of the disability employment gap. 

If you’d like to contribute to this Fellow-led project, complete this short questionnaire. 

The sources for the statistics included in this article can be found in Jane Hatton FRSA’s book A Dozen Brilliant Reasons to Employ Disabled People (2017) 

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