Disability employment gap Contents


1.The “disability employment gap” is a term used to refer to the difference in employment rates between disabled and non-disabled people. The gap currently stands at around 29 percentage points. The graph below shows how the gap has changed since 1998:

Figure 1: The disability employment gap, 1998–2019 (as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2010)

Source: Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health and Social Care, The Employment of Disabled People, March 2020

It is wider for people with certain types of disabilities or health conditions: people with learning disabilities, mental health problems and epilepsy, and people with multiple health conditions, are least likely to be in employment. Not all disabled people will want or be able to work, but those who do should be supported to do so.

2.The Government has set a target of getting one million more disabled people into work by 2027, replacing its previous target of halving the disability employment gap. Over the past decade, the number of disabled people in work has risen; in October-December 2019, there were 4.1 million disabled people in employment, compared to 2.9 million during the same period in 2013. Over the same period, the disability employment gap closed by five percentage points.1 The Government has made some welcome efforts to increase the number of disabled people in employment, but not all of these measures have been effective. In addition, disabled people still face significant barriers to both finding and remaining in work. This report sets out further steps that the Government can take to break those barriers down.

Our inquiry

3.We launched our inquiry on 3 November 2020, two days before the beginning of the second national lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Upon launch, we sent out a call for evidence seeking views on a number of key issues, including: the economic impact of low employment and high economic inactivity rates for disabled people; the impact of the pandemic on disabled peoples’ employment rates; the enforcement of reasonable adjustments; and what should be included in the Government’s upcoming National Strategy for Disabled People. We also sought views on the effectiveness of disability support programmes such as Access to Work and Disability Confident in helping disabled people into, and whilst in, work.

4.193 organisations and individuals submitted written evidence to our inquiry. This included 108 written submissions from disabled people who shared their views through a survey conducted by the disability charity Scope. In our first oral evidence session, held in January 2021, we heard from Dame Carol Black, and Joshua Reddaway of the National Audit Office. In subsequent evidence sessions we took evidence from academics and multiple disability organisations that represent a range of different impairment groups. We also took evidence from local authorities and providers of the Work and Health Programme on the benefits of locally commissioned disability employment support. In our final evidence session, held in May 2021, we questioned the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Justin Tomlinson MP, and officials from DWP, on the evidence that we heard over the course of our inquiry. We are grateful to everybody who submitted evidence to our inquiry.

5.We know that decisions affecting disabled people are too often made without them being consulted or listened to. As part of our inquiry, we held an online roundtable event with disabled people on 22 April to directly hear the views and experiences of the barriers that disabled people face accessing the labour market, and what more the Government could do to support disabled people into employment. We are hugely grateful to everybody who took the time to participate in our event and for sharing their personal stories with us.

The National Strategy for Disabled People and the Green Paper

6.In the Queen’s Speech 2019, the Government announced its intention to publish a new National Strategy for Disabled People, which it said would “reduce the disability employment gap.”2 DWP also committed in the Queen’s Speech 2019 to publishing a Green Paper on health and disability support, which it said would “explore how the welfare system can better meet the needs of disabled people and those with health conditions”.3

7.When she appeared before the Committee in September 2020, the Secretary of State said that she expected the Green Paper to be published before the end of the fiscal year.4 Giving evidence again in February 2021, she said again that she hoped it would be published “before the end of March”.5 When he gave evidence to us in May 2021, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work explained that the Green Paper was ready and that the delay in publishing was because the Government’s communications were focused on the response to coronavirus. He told us: “we are anticipating to be able to do that before the summer, so before Parliament rises for the summer, subject to Covid.” He said that the National Strategy was also “very close to being ready”, but was not able to confirm whether the two documents would be published simultaneously.6

8.In the event, the Green Paper was published at about 6pm on Tuesday 20 July. It was accompanied by the Government’s response to a consultation, Health is everyone’s business, which had set out proposals for reducing ill health-related job loss. That consultation closed on 7 October 2019. We understand that the Government now plans to publish the Strategy in the week of 26 July, when Parliament will not be sitting.

9.It is regrettable that the publication of three key documents—the Green Paper, the National Strategy and the Government’s response to the “Health is everyone’s business” consultation—has been delayed significantly over the course of our inquiry. The Government’s approach to the timing of their publication has severely limited Parliament’s opportunities to scrutinise these important policy documents. In finalising this report, we have had only one working day to consider the two papers that have been published, and so we address them only briefly. We have had no sight at all of the National Strategy for Disabled People. We very much hope that the Government will set out in the Strategy a clear plan for reducing the disability employment gap over the next five years. We expect to scrutinise all three documents further in the months to come.

1 ONS (DEG0085)

2 Prime Minister’s Office, The Queen’s Speech 2019, 19 December 2019

3 Prime Minister’s Office, The Queen’s Speech 2019, 19 December 2019

4 Oral evidence taken on 30 September 2020, HC (2019–21) 178, Q224

5 Oral evidence taken on 3 February 2021,HC (2019–21) 178, Q475

Published: 30 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement