Government needs to act now to avoid a jobs crisis for disabled people

Research by leading UK disability charity Leonard Cheshire has revealed that disabled people have been plunged into crisis by the COVID-19 employment landscape. 

The charity has warned that the government need to act now to avoid a jobs crisis for disabled people.

A survey of 1171 working age disabled people and 502 employers has revealed the scale of the impact on jobs from COVID-19. It uncovered a crisis of confidence among young disabled people who are pessimistic about their futures. 

At the same time, the study seems to suggest that representation of disabled people in the workplace is in decline amid lingering discrimination in the employment of disabled people. 


Seven in 10 disabled people who were employed in March had their employment impacted in some way by the pandemic, such as being furloughed, losing income, feeling at risk of redundancy, or losing their jobs. 

This impact was psychological for many disabled 18-24-year-olds. More than half said they felt that the pandemic had affected their ability to work, and 54 per cent said that it had hit their future earnings potential. 

Sophia Kleanthous, an alumna of Leonard Cheshire’s Change 100 programme who is based in London, says: “In the past I’ve been told I didn’t get a job I applied for because they were concerned my health would ‘get in the way’, that they needed someone who could be relied upon and that I’d be a burden to the company. This has to change.”

Time to act

Separate figures cited by the report hinted that this impact disproportionately fell on disabled people.

Analysis by the Institute for Employment Studies found that 40 per cent of disabled employees were either furloughed or had their hours reduced, compared with 30 per cent of non-disabled employees. 

In the report, employers seemed to be discouraged from hiring disabled people due to the pandemic. Two in five employers said that a barrier to doing so is being able to support them properly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A fifth admitted they were less likely to hire a disabled person overall.

The proportion of employers who say their organisation employs any disabled staff has also fallen to 33 per cent in 2020, a 16-percentage point drop from 2018. Just 21 per cent had hired any disabled people since 2018. 

Leonard Cheshire is now urging the government to act on the problems uncovered by the report. In particular, the charity pointed to measures in its Plan For Jobs, published earlier this month (October 2020). 

Motivators for change

Gemma Hope is head of policy at Leonard Cheshire, she says: “Our findings are stark. But we should see them not as gloomy forecasts for policymakers but as motivators for immediate, wide-ranging action.

“We must stress that prompt, decisive action can stop the trends we have identified from becoming more serious.”

“Still, we cannot understate the urgency of the challenge. Our study suggests that inclusive practices at employers have been put at risk by fears relating to COVID-19 as the economic outlook darkens.

“We urge the government to take on the recommendations we make in the Plan For Jobs, and work with businesses to make our recovery from this downturn an inclusive one.”

The Plans For Jobs outlines ways of ensuring the economic recovery from COVID-19 is disability inclusive.

These consist of preserving the furlough scheme for people who are shielding, introducing a Job Guarantee for young people, and overhauling Universal Credit to protect disabled people from hardship.

It also proposes measures to make employers more inclusive, such as mandatory reporting on disability employment rates and pay. 

Leonard Cheshire also called for improvements to employment programmes for young people, such as the Kickstart scheme. It pointed to its own employment scheme for young disabled people, Change 100, as an example of how programmes like this could continue during the pandemic.

Change 100 arranged 40 internships for disabled students and graduates in 2020 regardless of the pandemic. It also helped 52 students and graduates secure remote mentoring with employers. 

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