Disability employment gap Contents


Disabled people are considerably less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people. The disability employment gap—that is, the difference between the proportion of disabled and non-disabled people in employment—stands at nearly 30 percentage points. Since 2013, the gap has closed by five percentage points and the number of disabled people in employment has risen by 1.3 million. But disabled people still face unacceptable barriers to finding, staying in and progressing in work. The Government plans to set out its stall for how it will break down these barriers in its long-awaited National Strategy for Disabled People and Green Paper on health and disability support, It published the Green Paper, Shaping Future Support, on 20 July and has indicated that the Strategy will be published in the week of 26 July. We expect to scrutinise both documents in the months to come.

Targets and measures

The Government has set a target of getting one million more disabled people into work by 2027. That replaced its previous target of halving the disability employment gap. It seems to be on track to reach this goal. But the rising number of disabled people in employment is largely down to increases in the number of people reporting that they are disabled and to overall improvements to the labour market, which have also benefited non-disabled people. The Government needs a meaningful and effective target against which the success of its policies can be measured. It should re-adopt its previous target of halving the disability employment gap and combine it with a new, more ambitious target of getting an additional 1.2 million disabled people into work—equivalent to halving the disability employment gap at today’s employment levels—by 2027. It should also improve how it collects data about the employment status of people with specific conditions.

Mandatory reporting, which would require employers to report the proportion of their workforce who are disabled, has been proposed as a means of holding employers to account on hiring disabled people and creating inclusive workplaces. Large employers (with 250 employees or more) should be required to publish data on the proportion of disabled people who they employ. The disability pay gap remains high: disabled people still earn less, on average, than non-disabled people. The Government must set ambitious targets for reducing this gap.

Employment support

DWP should carry out a radical overhaul of its approach to employment support for disabled people. As a large-scale national programme, the Work and Health Programme is not working for many disabled people: it is smaller, specialist providers that are best placed to deliver the support that they need. We propose that funding for the Work and Health Programme and successor programmes should be devolved. The default position should be that groups of local authorities, perhaps based on the recently defined NHS integrated care system boundaries, are responsible for commissioning and delivering employment support for disabled people in their area, with DWP responsible for allocating funding, monitoring performance, and publishing detailed comparative performance data. This support should be closely integrated with the NHS, education providers and the third sector. We recognise, however, that not all local authorities will have the capability needed to provide this support: in those areas, DWP should remain responsible for delivering employment support.

DWP, working closely with the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care, should also expand the provision of Individual Placement and Support, a model of employment support that has had a transformative impact on the employment prospects of some people with severe mental illness.

Some disabled people we heard from spoke highly of a technique called job carving. Job carving is when an employer tailors or creates roles that best match the skills of an employee. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has identified job carving as a method which could improve disabled peoples’ employment outcomes. The Department already encourages providers of some of its disability programmes to engage with employers to job carve roles for participants, but it could and should do more. We recommend that, as part of its National Strategy for Disabled People, DWP should provide detailed guidance to employers and providers of its programmes about how they can job carve roles for disabled people.

In-work support

Out-of-work support is a substantial part of DWP’s business and getting disabled people into work is vital in closing the disability employment gap. But it is equally important that employers are supported to keep workers on who develop a health condition while they are in work, and that disabled people have opportunities to progress at work that are on a par with non-disabled people. As well as monitoring the absolute number of disabled people who are in employment, the Government should also monitor the rate at which disabled people leave or remain in work compared to their non-disabled counterparts.

While the law requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to support disabled workers, in reality, some employers either do not understand their obligations or deliberately flout them. The Government must ensure that employers have access to support and guidance on reasonable adjustments through its new online information hub, and it should consider “naming and shaming” those who deliberately ignore or breach the law. In July 2021, the Department published its response to the Health is everyone’s business consultation. This sets out the Government’s next steps on ways of stemming the flow of people with long-term health conditions out of employment, including the case for providing financial support for smaller employers to purchase occupational health services.

Too many disabled people find it difficult to access support through Jobcentre Plus because its services do not meet their accessibility needs. We have heard about BSL users who weren’t offered an interpreter, and people with visual impairments not being assisted whilst inside Jobcentres. The fact that the government department whose ministerial team includes the Minister for Disabled People has not made its services accessible to all is simply unacceptable. DWP must take urgent steps to rectify this by investing in and expanding its provision of alternative formats for its communications with disabled people. It should also ensure that all Jobcentre Plus staff receive impairment-specific disability training.

Access to Work is a government scheme which provides practical advice and support to disabled people and their employers to help them overcome work-related obstacles resulting from disability. It can be a vital source of support. But the scheme is dogged by a bureaucratic, cumbersome and time-consuming application process, which can put people off applying and leaves many people in limbo while they wait to find out what support they will receive. The Minister told us that the application process will undergo a “digital transformation”: DWP should use this opportunity to work with disabled people to redesign the application process entirely, and expand the use of bureaucracy-reducing measures such as Access to Work passports.

Disability Confident is a government programme which aims to influence, promote, and educate employers on the benefits of recruiting and retaining disabled employees. It has been successful at raising awareness of disability employment issues and its aims are laudable. But we heard throughout our inquiry that the scheme was not making any measurable impact on increasing the number of disabled people in work. The scheme has been described by many as a tick box exercise, with requirements for employers not being robust or challenging enough, and we heard concerns that the scheme is over-reliant on self-certification as a means of awarding accreditation to employers. In July 2018, in response to our predecessor Committee’s report, the Department said that it was developing proposals for an evaluation of Disability Confident. But those proposals were never published. To assess whether the scheme is meeting its objectives, DWP should now urgently announce its plans to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of Disability Confident, and commit to a specific timetable for publishing the evaluation. The Department’s evaluation should explore ways in which the success of the scheme can be measured, the actions that the Department could take against employers failing to meet their obligations, and consider whether the existing criteria are sufficiently challenging and encourage meaningful change from employers.

Impact of the coronavirus pandemic

While it is still too early to evaluate the long-term impacts of the pandemic on disabled peoples’ employment, early evidence we heard suggests that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on disabled people, with 71% of disabled people having their work impacted by the pandemic, compared to 61% of non-disabled people. We also heard that disabled people are more likely to be working in sectors that were forced to close during the pandemic, more likely to be at risk of redundancy, and more likely to be working reduced hours than non-disabled people.

To support people back into work after the pandemic, the Government has announced two major employment support schemes: Kickstart and Restart. However, longstanding deficiencies in the collection and storage of claimant data in the Universal Credit system mean that the Department cannot effectively measure, in real time, how well both schemes are working for disabled people. DWP has said that it will publish data on the outcomes of disabled people who participate in each scheme, but only after evaluations of the schemes have taken place. This is not good enough. In our previous Report, DWP’s preparations for changes in the world of work, we concluded that longstanding deficiencies in the collection and storage of claimant data in the Universal Credit system meant the Department cannot effectively measure how well both schemes are working for disabled people. In that report, we recommended that DWP should urgently make improvements to the Universal Credit system, to enable it to record and use data about claimants’ characteristics. We reiterate that recommendation in this report. DWP should immediately improve how it collects data about claimants’ characteristics in the Universal Credit system so that it can monitor, in real time, how well the Kickstart and Restart schemes are working for disabled people, and regularly publish the results.

Remote working has become more popular and more essential during the pandemic. For some disabled people, remote working has created new barriers to employment, particularly with accessing and using digital technology. For others, however, it has aided their participation in the labour market, with disabled people telling us that they are able to manage their conditions better when working from home. The Government should work with employers to ensure that disabled people who can and want to work remotely are supported to do so after the pandemic where it is feasible. To that end, we recommend the Government should amend current legislation and give workers the statutory right to request flexible working from the beginning of their employment.

The disability benefits system

In its Green Paper, DWP says that it will consider how to address issues with the disability benefits system in the short- and medium-term. It must listen to disabled people’s experiences as part of the consultation process and use this to inform its approach to reforming the disability benefits system. The Work Capability Assessment, which is designed to assess whether a person is “fit for work”, is not fit for purpose. DWP needs to rethink its approach to assessments for disability benefit assessments. The system of repeat assessments and the punitive nature of DWP’s sanctions and conditionality regime can trap claimants in a cycle of anxiety, pushing them further away from the labour market. As the Minister accepts, it is in no one’s interest for a sanction to be imposed. DWP should reconsider its approach to sanctioning disabled claimants; it should also commit to reducing the number of disability benefit claimants who are subject to conditionality and decrease the value of sanctions. The Department should also set out the action it has taken in response to our predecessor Committees’ recommendations on benefit sanctions, including their recommendations that some groups should be exempt from sanctions and that DWP should explore options for non-financial sanctions and for a warning system.

DWP’s engagement with disabled people

Issues of trust continue to hamper the relationship between DWP and disabled people. The Department itself has described the lack of trust towards it from disabled people as a barrier to the delivery of its services. We also heard that engagement with disabled people on the development of the Government’s National Strategy for Disabled People has been underwhelming and poorly conducted. The Social Security Advisory Committee has called on DWP to adopt a protocol for its engagement with disabled people. We urge the Department to accept that recommendation as a first step towards improving its approach.

Published: 30 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement