‘Zero progress' made on disability pay gap in last decade – what can employers do?

With non-disabled workers earning almost a sixth more than their disabled colleagues, People Management asks experts to consider how HR can help

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The wage disparity between non-disabled and disabled workers is now larger than it was a decade ago, according to research by the TUC.

The organisation lamented that “zero progress” had been made – and renewed calls for mandatory disability pay gap reporting and a day-one right to flexible work.

The TUC’s analysis found non-disabled workers earn 14.6 per cent more than their disabled colleagues. The gap amounts to £1.90 per hour, or £66.50 per week or £3,460 per year to someone working a 35-hour week.

The gap was calculated using Labour Force Survey statistics across the most recent year of data (Q3 2022 to Q2 2023).

The TUC said it meant that disabled people effectively “work for free” for the last 47 days of the year and stop getting paid on 14 November – designated by the organisation as Disability Pay Gap Day.

According to the data, the pay disparity has narrowed since last year, when it stood at £2.05 per hour (17.2 per cent). But it remains higher than it was nine years ago (13.2 per cent in 2013-14, when the first comparable pay data was collected) and it is only slightly lower than when the TUC first launched Disability Pay Gap Day in 2016-17, when it was 15 per cent.

Paul Nowak, TUC general secretary, said: “We all deserve to be paid fairly for the work we do. But disabled people continue to be valued less in our jobs market. 

“Being disabled shouldn’t mean you are given a lower wage – or left out of the jobs market altogether.”

So, with little progress in closing the disability pay gap over the last decade, what can organisations and employers do?

See the person as an individual

Sandi Wassmer, CEO of the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion, says many organisations find it difficult to navigate the world of reasonable adjustments and onboarding and frequently find themselves in a “quandary” about how to treat their disabled employees. “Although wanting to do the right thing, employers somehow forget that disabled people are just people, trying to get on with their lives and be happy,” she explains.

Wassmer says that, although the world of disability is “complex”, the place to start is always the same – to “see the person as an individual”.

Using data and evidence 

Jill Miller, senior policy adviser for diversity and inclusion at the CIPD, says employer attention needs to urgently focus on the stark “inequalities at work” experienced by disabled employers, illustrated by the pay gap. “Attention needs to focus on removing barriers to equality in getting into work as well as those experienced in career progression, and it needs to happen now,” she says. 

Miller says it is “vital” employers understand what is happening in their own organisation, through data and other evidence. “We encourage organisations to collect data and voluntarily report on disabilities in their workforce, whether through an existing framework or other methods,” she says, adding that businesses can then develop an action plan. 

However, she stresses that while workforce data is important to create an effective action plan that identifies and remove barriers to disability inclusion, it's up to employees whether they want to tell their employer about their disability. 

“Some employees might be apprehensive about telling their employer, unless they know this information won’t influence decisions such as promotions, and how the information will be used, so explaining and reassuring employees will help," she said.

Recognising fair opportunity and support for disabled workers

According to Kate Palmer, HR adviser and consultancy director at Peninsula, because disability is one of the nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act, organisations have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for any employee who would otherwise face a “substantial disadvantage”.

"Paying an employee less because of their disability is likely discriminatory," Palmer says, adding that while most firms will not do this on purpose, employers should evaluate their organisation and the support they provide to help people grow.

Employers that make “effective adjustments” for their employees benefit from increased satisfaction, motivation, productivity and long-term retention, she says. 

Create an action plan

The pay gap is "discouraging”, says Nicola Inge, social impact director at Business in the Community.

She says employers must determine whether they have a disability pay gap and, if so, create an action plan. This should include tracking progress and examining company policies and culture about pay and advancement, because everyone should have "equal access" to training and development opportunities as well as the support they require to advance in their careers, Inge explains.

Businesses to lead with intention 

According to the analysis, disabled workers are also more likely to be excluded from the job market and twice as likely as non-disabled workers to be unemployed (6.7 per cent versus 3.3 per cent). 

The data also demonstrates that disabled BME workers face a far more difficult labour market – one in 10 (10.4 per cent) BME disabled workers is unemployed, compared to roughly one in 40 (2.6 per cent) white non-disabled workers.

Katy Talikowska, CEO of the Valuable 500, says disabled people deserve the same pay as their non-disabled counterparts for doing the same work. “There have been positive signs of progression for the people with disabilities in the workforce and business leaders are recognising the value of diversity in their employee base,” she says, adding that there is “much more work to be done”. 

Talikowska says businesses should make meaningful changes to their pay and hiring structures, pointing out that disability inclusion data is “absent” from the performance metrics that organisations measure themselves against.

She says there is a need for standardised data on the employment of people with disabilities, published to the same timescales as their financial and sustainability data.

Read the CIPD’s case for disability workforce reporting here