Disabled workers facing coronavirus ‘jobs crisis’, survey shows

Two-fifths of employers say being unable to support those with disabilities during the outbreak is a barrier to employing them

Disabled people are facing a ‘jobs crisis’ caused by coronavirus, a charity has warned, with the outbreak discouraging employers from hiring such individuals.   

According to a report from Leonard Cheshire, seven in 10 disabled people (71 per cent) in employment in March this year were affected by the pandemic, either through a loss of income, being put on furlough or being made redundant. This increased to 84 per cent for those aged 18 to 24.

The poll, which surveyed 1,171 working-age disabled people and 502 employers, also raised concerns that the pandemic was negatively impacting employers’ inclusivity practices.

Two-fifths of employers polled (42 per cent) said a barrier to hiring disabled workers was the concern they would not be able to properly support them through the pandemic, while a fifth (20 per cent) admitted they would be less likely overall to hire someone with a disability.

The report said not only were many disabled people clinically at high risk from the virus, but many also worked in sectors hardest hit by the outbreak, including retail and hospitality. 

“Given that nearly three-quarters of disabled people who were employed in March have had their jobs affected by Covid-19, there are severe risks that disabled people will be cast from the workplace with no route to secure new employment,” it said.

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The report also uncovered a “crisis of confidence” among young disabled people, who were on the whole pessimistic about their futures. Almost half (45 per cent) of working-age disabled people polled said the pandemic had negatively affected their ability to work, increasing to 71 per cent among those aged 18 to 24.

Similarly, 48 per cent said the Covid crisis had affected their future earnings, increasing to 54 per cent among young disabled people.

Gemma Hope, head of policy at Leonard Cheshire, said the report’s findings were “stark”, and urged both employers and the government to take action. “We must stress that prompt, decisive action can stop the trends we have identified from becoming more serious,” she said.

“Our study suggests that inclusive practices at employers have been put at risk by fears relating to Covid-19 as the economic outlook darkens,” Hope added. “We urge the government to take on [our recommendations], and work with businesses to make our recovery from this downturn an inclusive one.”

Leonard Cheshire also called for greater provisions for disabled people in the government’s plan for jobs, including funding a jobs guarantee for newly unemployed disabled people.