The government is being urged to increase support for disabled people as research finds that the pandemic has widened already large gaps in employment rates and pay between disabled people and non-disabled people.
The new research by Learning and Work Institute and The Black Stork Charity shows a growing number of disabled people have been left out of work and struggling to make ends meet since the start of the pandemic.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, from 2013 to 2019, the employment rate of disabled people increased by 10 percentage points, with 1.4 million disabled people in work. But research shows that the employment, pay and finances of disabled people have been more negatively affected by the pandemic than many other groups.
The report finds that disabled people were more than one and a half times more likely to move out of employment during 2020 compared to non-disabled people. Out-of-work disabled people were only one third as likely to be in work by the end of 2020 as non-disabled people, and as a result, the disability employment gap widened between 2019 and 2020.
Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute, says: “Disabled people were more likely to lose their job during the pandemic than non-disabled people and less likely to move into work. This has widened an already large gap in employment opportunities and reversed some of the progress being made.
“The Government must make sure support to find jobs works better for disabled people than previous schemes, and work with employers to support disabled people to stay in work. We must ensure disabled people share fully in the economic recovery.”
Disabled people were also more likely to be temporarily away from paid work than non-disabled people and nearly twice as likely to be long-term unemployed by the end of 2020.
Based on these findings, the report urges the Government to act now to improve employment opportunities for disabled people by: supporting disabled people to stay in employment; helping disabled people to find work; and improving working conditions including access to flexible working.
Previously, employment support programmes haven’t worked as well for disabled people: disabled people note the Work Programme, which was introduced after the last recession, were less likely to be satisfied with the support they received, less likely to find work, and less likely to stay in work.
Janet Morrison, chief executive of Black Stork Charity, says: “If the Government is serious about its commitment to ensuring one million more disabled people in work by 2027 and addressing the health inequalities laid bare by the pandemic it will need to actively enhance the routes back to work for people with acquired disabilities, the quality of support given to disabled job seekers and promote accessible employment practices that enable an inclusive workforce.
The report now asks the government to make sure the new Restart programme, aimed at supporting long-term unemployed people, delivers better outcomes for disabled people. It should also ensure high quality support through Jobcentre Plus, including from new disability employment advisors which were recently announced by the Department for Work and Pensions.
In addition, the report calls for Kickstart to be expanded to disabled people over the age of 25 who are long-term unemployed and for greater support for employers to help disabled people in work to stay in employment.