Mandatory reporting will not close disability employment gap, research says

Report suggests there is no clear link between the percentage of disabled employees and their experience in an organisation

Credit: Ziga Plahutar/Getty Images

Mandatory disability workforce reporting is not the solution to closing the disability employment gap, a report has said.

The report, by the Business Disability Forum, found that neither employers nor disabled employees felt that mandatory reporting would improve the outcome for workers with disabilities.

It said there was no clear link between the experiences of disabled employees within an organisation and the percentage of disabled employees reported – with employers reporting a higher percentage of disabled workers not always the most inclusive to work for, suggesting that mandatory reporting could create a misleading picture.

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In addition, the report – which based its findings on a working group of 64 employers and 64 disabled people – said that disabled employees often felt language including ‘must’ and ‘mandatory’ created a negative impression of employing disabled people.

Disabled employees also raised concerns over how disability would be defined and different disabilities and conditions would be classified under any potential mandatory reporting system.

Angela Matthews, head of policy at the Business Disability Forum, said that while she welcomed the government’s commitment to increasing the number of disabled people in employment, it was uncertain whether the proposed measures would help improve employment opportunities for disabled people.

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“The disability employment gap has not moved in a meaningful or acceptable way and action must be taken to address this. We are yet to be convinced, however, that mandatory reporting is the action needed at this time.”

Instead, the organisation called for an increase in voluntary reporting, and for the voluntary reporting framework to be revised to focus more on the experience disabled people have at work.

The report was published in response to the government’s consultation on mandatory reporting.

Commenting on the report, Theo Smith, co-author of Neurodiversity at Work, described mandatory disability reporting as a “tick-box exercise.”

“My experience is that the functions responsible for capturing this data get too hung up on providing the data, and less focused on dealing with the issue at hand,” he said, suggesting that instead businesses needed more representation “from the community that we are trying to serve”.

“[Collecting] data can be an excuse to do very little to solve the problem,” Smith added.

Helen Goss, employment partner at Boyes Turner, said while the principle of mandatory reporting seemed sensible, working out the practicalities may be challenging.

“The definition [of disability] needs to be clear as any report needs consistency to ensure everyone understands who should be included within the definition,” she said.

She added that not everyone “knows, agrees or understands whether they are disabled [and] not everyone is prepared to share that they have a disability for fear of discrimination".

Caroline Casey, a disability activist, said employers needed to invest in disabled talent, promote disability self-identification, and ultimately improve disabled representation for both employees and consumers.

“Disability metrics in performance tools are more urgently required to solve these issues and to acknowledge the fundamental existence of disabled employees within the workplace,” she added.