The government has met a target to get one million more disabled people into work by 2027 years ahead of schedule, although campaigners warn more needs be done to close the disability employment gap.
The latest labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the number of disabled people in employment had increased by 1.3 million since 2017, when the 10-year target was set.
Between January and March this year, there were 4.8 million disabled people in employment, an increase of 460,000 on the previous year, while the disability employment gap – the difference in the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people – was 28.2 percentage points in the first quarter of 2022.
This was down 0.2 percentage points on the previous year, and down 5.6 percentage points compared to the same quarter in 2014.
Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, welcomed the news. But, she said, more analysis of the data was needed.
“We need to dig into the figures to understand how many of the one million are new or returning entrants to the job market versus how many represent disabled people who have remained in work thanks to better interventions and support, or who now feel able to identify as disabled in the workplace, perhaps for the first time,” she said.
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Lightfoot also urged the government to set new and ambitious targets that considered the barriers disabled people faced at work, and said businesses needed to create a more inclusive culture where people felt “able to bring their whole selves to work”.
“That these cultures are being created, or worked towards, is in itself cause for celebration. It does not remove, however, the urgent need to narrow and ultimately close the disability employment gap,” she said.
James Taylor, director of strategy at disability charity Scope, described the figures as good news. But, he said, the bigger picture was “more complicated than the headline figure”.
“Getting a job is still tough if you are disabled. We’ve heard from disabled people who have had to apply for hundreds of jobs, who have continuously been overlooked and found it incredibly hard to progress once they are in work,” he said.
Taylor added that, against the backdrop of record low unemployment, the focus needed to be on closing the disability employment gap.
“We all need to play our part, by offering accessible recruitment processes, flexible working and collaborating with disabled employees to improve employment for disbaled people,” Taylor said.
Nicola Inge, employment and skills director at Business in the Community, suggested creating partnerships with groups that support disadvantaged jobseekers, including disabled people, could be a “useful first step towards employers opening their doors to a more diverse pool of talent.”
The disability employment goal was part of a 2017 government manifesto commitment originally to break down barriers for disabled people and those with health conditions and to build more diverse and inclusive workforces.
Minister for disabled people, health and work, Chloe Smith, said the goal was an important milestone in supporting disabled people to lead independent lives and reach their full potential.
“Ensuring everyone has the same opportunity for a fulfilling working life is a key part of levelling up the country and we will continue to push for greater accessibility and inclusion for disabled job seekers,” she said.