Disability pay gap widens compared to previous year, new data reveals

Figures show disabled employees earned almost £2 per hour less than non-disabled workers in 2021, yet gap has narrowed since before Covid

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The UK’s disability pay gap widened slightly to 13.8 per cent in 2021, new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed, with disabled employees earning almost £2 per hour less than their non-disabled colleagues.

The figures, released yesterday (25 April), showed that disabled employees earn an average of £12.10 per hour, while non-disabled employees earn £14.03 per hour – a difference of £1.93 per hour.

The gap was just 0.3 percentage points wider than in 2020, when it was 13.5 per cent, and 2.1 percentage points wider than in 2014 when records began, when it was 11.7 per cent. However, the gap had narrowed compared to prior to the Covid-19 pandemic: in 2019, disabled employees earned an average of 14.1 per cent less than non-disabled workers.

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The figures, drawn from the ONS Annual Population Survey and the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, also found that disabled men, who are paid 12.4 per cent less than non-disabled men, faced a wider pay gap than disabled women, who are paid 10.5 per cent less. 

The survey found that Scotland has the widest pay gap of all four UK regions, at 18.5 per cent, while Wales has the smallest at 11.6 per cent. (The survey noted that this figure was drawn from the employee area of residence, not their area of work.)

Jill Cotton, career trends expert at Glassdoor, said that the figures signalled a “missed opportunity” and that employers could “unlock new talent pools by seeking out overlooked workers such as those with disabilities or health conditions”.

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And Caroline Casey, disability activist and founder of the Valuable 500, agreed that disabled employees were “consistently overlooked and underserved” and said that yesterday’s figures added to a list of discrimination that includes “disproportionate redundancy rates [and] higher levels of long-term unemployment”.

However, Angela Matthews, head of policy at Business Disability Form, pointed out that the figures may not be a measure of workplace inclusion, as some disabled employees prefer to have a lower-paid job or reduce their hours, in order to manage a healthy work-life balance.

She also highlighted that some employers can refuse requests for reduced hours as it could reflect badly on their disability pay gap data: “We can’t be arguing for more employers to, for example, increase flexible working in one breath if we are also criticising them for how their disability pay gap looks in another,” she said, adding that “inclusion is about choice”.

According to the data, disabled employees who are limited in their daily activities faced a pay gap of 19.9 per cent, while disabled employees who are not limited in their daily activities have a smaller gap of 12.1 per cent.

Those with six or more impairments had a higher pay gap of 19.5 per cent, while those with 1 impairment had the lowest pay gap of 11.7 per cent.

Out of all the age groups, 16-to-19-year-olds faced the smallest pay gap of 0.3 per cent, earning an average of £7.67 per hour, while non disabled employees in that age group earnt £7.69 per hour.

Those with autism as their primary diagnosis faced a pay gap of 33.5 per cent, the highest pay gap out of all the groups. Those with severe or specific learning difficulties, epilepsy and mental illness also had high pay gaps of 29.7 per cent, 25.4 per cent and 22.1 per cent respectively.

Those with stomach, heart or other problems had the lowest pay gaps, at 7.6, 7.6 and 7.1 per cent respectively. Those with sight issues were not paid any more or less than non disabled people, with a pay gap of 0 per cent.

Meanwhile, those with severe disfigurements, skin conditions and allergies experienced a positive pay gap of -2.8 per cent. Similarly, those with hearing issues were paid on average 4.8 per cent more than non-disabled people.