One in four UK employers would not hire someone with a disability

Withdrawn job offers and concerns over suitability create ‘tough and unwelcoming environment’ for disabled people, says survey

More than seven in 10 disabled workers in the UK have stopped working due to a disability or health condition, new research from charity Leonard Cheshire has found. 

According to a ComRes survey of more than 1,600 disabled adults in the UK, carried out between June and July 2018, 73 per cent had dropped out of work because of their condition. 

In addition, almost one in five (17 per cent) of those that had applied for a job in the past five years reported their job offer was withdrawn by their employer as a result of their disability. 

Attitudinal barriers proved a significant obstacle in preventing the progression of disabled people, the research found. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of UK employers said they would be less likely to hire someone with a disability, and six in 10 (60 per cent) of those reported concerns that a disabled person would not be able to do the job.

“Our research reveals a tough and unwelcoming employment for disabled people despite overall employment levels climbing to record highs,” said Neil Heslop, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire. He warned the majority of disabled people remained “frozen out of the world of work”. 

“All of us must redouble our efforts to challenge outdated attitudes to disability and accelerate the positive change that enables talented individuals to gain and keep jobs.”

The news follows findings from law firm Stephensons LLP, which last week revealed that of the 1,725 Equality Act enquiries the firm dealt with during 2018, almost two-thirds (1,100 or 64 per cent) involved proposed claims of disability discrimination. 

James Taylor, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at disability charity Scope, described the findings as “extremely disheartening”. 

“Making reasonable adjustments for a more inclusive workplace is not rocket science; it can cost little to employers but can make the world of difference to disabled people,” he said.  

Maria Chadwick, senior associate solicitor at Stephensons, called for compulsory training for public sector bodies, adding many were “failing in their legal obligations to treat people equally”. 

“We need to see equality and diversity training at the onset of anyone’s employment, and to ensure that training is specifically tailored to the sector they are working with,” she told People Management

“While there are purposeful behaviours in these cases, a lot of discrimination can be attributed to mistakes and a lack of knowledge – but as an employer or department, you will be vicariously liable for that lack of knowledge.” 

The second largest number of enquiries made to the firm related to racial discrimination, with almost one in five (19.7 per cent) covering this area. More than 5 per cent of enquiries related to sex and gender discrimination, and a similar proportion were made on the grounds of age-related discrimination.

“There needs to be more emphasis on training for employees around awareness of the Equality Act,” Chadwick added. 

“The most effective way to make that happen is by the serious consideration of enforcing the obligations of organisations with financial penalties.”