Disability pay gap is 12.2 per cent, official data suggests

Employers urged to report on disability in the workplace to improve opportunities

UK employers could be reporting an average disability pay gap of 12.2 per cent if they were subject to a formal requirement, the latest official data has suggested.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that in 2018 the median wage for a disabled worker was £10.63 an hour, compared with £12.11 for the rest of the working population, meaning for every £1 earned by non-disabled workers, those with a disability earned just 88p.

The disability pay gap as estimated by the ONS has remained broadly unchanged since 2014, when it sat at 11.9 per cent.

Campaigners and business groups have previously called for a disability pay gap reporting regime, similar to the system brought in obliging large employers to report their gender pay gaps. It is part of a wider move towards greater transparency around pay, with some form of ethnicity pay reporting widely expected to be introduced in the next parliament.

Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said the figures showed there was “a way to go to achieve equality of opportunity”, and that employers and line managers had a part to play in reducing the barriers to disabled workers’ professional progression. 

“Businesses that aren’t inclusive and don’t manage health and disability effectively risk missing out on hard-working and talented individuals, and damaging their reputation among staff and customers. They could also face legal action if they fail to comply with equalities law,” she said. 

Miller added that employers could help close the disability employment and progression gap by ensuring line managers were aware of their responsibilities around making reasonable adjustments. “These are often perfectly achievable, such as providing flexibility over working patterns,” she said.

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James Taylor, head of policy and public affairs at disability charity Scope, said employers needed to begin by reporting on disability in the workplace. He described the disability pay gap as “a damning symptom of disabled people being hindered in the world of work”, and said a range of factors made it more difficult for disabled people to enter and progress in the workplace.

“Sometimes it’s negative attitudes and assumptions, or a lack of reasonable adjustments, that hold disabled people back. Sometimes it’s a simple lack of understanding or know-how from employers,” said Taylor. 

The ONS statistics showed that just over half (50.9 per cent) of disabled people aged 16-64 in the UK were in employment in 2018, compared with 80.7 per cent of non-disabled people – a disability employment gap of 29.8 per cent. 

More than two in five disabled people (44.3 per cent) were classed as economically inactive. The majority of this group (57.2 per cent) reported that their disability was the main reason they were inactive. 

People whose primary disability was a mental impairment (defined by the ONS as a mental health condition or illness lasting more than 12 months, which includes conditions such as learning difficulties, epilepsy and depression), earned 18.6 per cent less than non-disabled people. 

The most common type of disability for working people was depression or anxiety, with 17.6 per cent of people reporting this as their main impairment. 

The pay gap was also affected by profession. Disabled people working as managers, directors and senior officials earned 13.1 per cent less than their non-disabled counterparts. 

The ONS noted that “differences in average occupation and education are still the largest and most important measurable factors, which can explain the pay gap”, implying that direct pay discrimination may not be the main factor in the disability pay gap.