• International Workplace
  • 25 April 2017

Disability progress ‘littered with missed opportunities and failures’

Progress towards real equality for disabled people over the past 20 years is insufficient and “littered with missed opportunities and failures”, the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said following the publication of a comprehensive analysis of how the rights of disabled people are protected in Great Britain

Commenting on the damning new state of the nation report, ‘Being disabled in Britain: A journey less equal’, David Isaac said:

“Whilst at face value we have travelled far, in reality disabled people are being left behind in society, their life chances remain very poor, and public attitudes have changed very little.

“This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the 13 million disabled people who live in Britain. They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens.”

The report, which covers six key areas of life, finds that disabled people in Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all of them, and sets out vital areas for urgent improvement. Despite significant progress in the laws protecting disabled people’s rights, the report finds they are still not being treated as equal citizens and continue to be denied the opportunities and outcomes non-disabled people take for granted.

This includes: a lack of equal opportunities in education and employment; barriers to access to transport, health services and housing; the persistent and widening disability pay gap; deteriorating access to justice; and welfare reforms significantly affecting the already low living standards of disabled people.

The new report reveals: 
  • More disabled and non-disabled people overall are in work in Britain in 2015/16 compared to 2010/11. Despite this, less than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults, and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010/11. However, this is not the case across all impairment types, and for those with ‘mental health conditions’ and those with ‘physical disabilities’ the gap between them and non-disabled people has narrowed.
  • The disability pay gap in Britain also continues to widen. Disabled young people (aged 16-24) and disabled women had the lowest median hourly earnings of all.
  • Accessing healthcare services is problematic for disabled people, and they’re less likely to report positive experiences. Considerable shortcomings remain in all three countries in the provision of mental health services, where disabled adults are more likely to report poor mental health and wellbeing than non-disabled adults.
  • Changes to legal aid in England and Wales have negatively affected disabled people’s access to justice. Across GB, there has been a 54% drop in employment tribunal claims on grounds of disability discrimination following the introduction of fees in July 2013.

The report calls on the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to place a new national focus on disability equality, so that the rights of disabled people are fully realised and to deliver improvements in their experience and outcomes.

These include reducing the education and employment gaps for disabled people; ensuring that essential services such as housing, health and transport meet the needs of disabled people; and improving existing laws and policies to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

The Commission’s recent submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, produced jointly with the other equality and human rights commissions across the UK, also highlights the need to do more to protect the human rights of disabled people. It contains 75 recommendations to the UK and devolved governments on how they can improve the rights disabled people enjoy across areas such as housing, transport, social care and employment. The main public examination of the UK by the UN Committee will take place in August 2017, and the Commission will work with the other UK equality and human rights commissions and disabled people and their organisations to help make the recommendations a reality.

Further to this activity, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is engaged in a range of ongoing work aimed at improving the lives of disabled people, including legally enforcing the Equality Act, improving access to public services, housing and transport, analysing the impact of welfare reforms, and influencing new legislation.

The Commission has received several comments on the report from other equality and human rights organisations, including:

“This new report makes sombre and disappointing reading, and highlights the unfairness disabled people continue to face, day in and day out.

“As a society, we say we want progress towards disabled people taking a full part in society; but instead we appear to be going backwards.  We need concrete plans from government, with outcomes measured regularly, to ensure we get back on track. We welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission report and are keen to work with them and others to tackle discrimination.”

- Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK

“The Government has to respond positively and urgently to the severity of today’s findings, not least in calling a halt to the damaging aspects of benefits reforms, but they are not the only people responsible for making society accessible to all.

“Employers can be more proactive about making their workplaces and their recruitment policies more open to disabled people. Local councillors can increase their accessible housing targets. And we can collectively check our own attitudes to make sure that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has better news to report in 20 years’ time. This alarming report is a wake-up call that needs to be heard.”

- Robert Meadowcroft, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK

“The findings echo our own research, particularly when it comes to work and benefits. We’ve found that when you have a mental health problem you face a number of barriers to getting and staying in work, including employer attitudes and a welfare system which focuses on sanctions rather than supporting people back into appropriate work. We know that stopping or threatening to stop someone’s benefits when they’re too unwell to work is cruel, inappropriate, and ineffective at helping them back into employment. We support the Government’s ambition to halve the disability employment gap, but if this is to become a reality, we urgently need to see a radical overhaul of the benefits and back-to-work system, and workplaces valuing the contribution disabled employees can make.”

- Paul Spencer, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind

The report’s findings around discrimination in the workplace include:
  • The disability pay gap persists. Disabled people earned £9.85 compared with £11.41 for non-disabled people (median hourly pay).
  • Older disabled people (over the age of 50) are staying in the labour market longer (from 34.9% in 2001 to 41.7% in 2012), and the number of those acquiring a disability and remaining in employment also increased by 160,000 (58%) between 2001 and 2012.
  • There are specific concerns about the effectiveness of the reform to UK government employment support programmes such as Access to Work and the Work Programme for disabled people. In particular, non-disabled people (35%) are almost twice as likely as disabled people (18%) to get a job on the Work Programme. 

Its recommendations to the UK and devolved governments for action are:

  1. Reduce educational attainment and employment gaps for disabled people.
  2. Ensure that essential services, such as housing, health, transport and justice, meet the particular needs of disabled people and support their independence and wellbeing.
  3. Promote the inclusion and participation of disabled people in civic and political life.
  4. Strengthen disabled people’s choice, autonomy and control over decisions and services.
  5. Improve existing legislation, policies, frameworks and action plans to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.
  6. Improve the evidence base on the experiences and outcomes of disabled people and the ability to assess how fair Britain is for all disabled people.

International Workplace veiws - tweet us yours @intworkplace & @tartumberIW

"Having looked at the statistics and detail in the report, it is very concerning, but also sad, that yet another group of people is disadvantaged in the workplace.  This just goes to show that despite the Government setting initiatives in place, until organisations, and society as a whole, changes their mindset and look to proactively support disabled people, the statistics will continue in this negative direction. As an HR consultant, I am all too familiar with a managerial view that because someone is physically disabled, or voluntarily discloses a mental disability,  they ‘can’t do the work’, or ‘they will be off sick all the time’!  This is certainly not always the case and the more we can do to manage and shape a more positive opinion, the better.

"We are all too aware of legal changes which prevent discrimination against disabled people, women, transgender employees etc but if someone wants to discriminate, they will find a way.  Although disabled applicants and employees can put in a claim at employment tribunal, the fees they have to pay can be very off-putting; never mind the intense process they have to then go through to have their time in court.  Then there’s the chance they might not succeed in their claim.   So in short, I would totally agree that we all need to educate organisations of the value a diverse workforce can bring and I would hope that the Government legislates to support this."

- Tar Tumber, HR Consultant at International Workplace