According to a new report by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), one million disabled people who are currently out of work want to find employment, but are blocked from doing so.

Under 48 per cent of disabled people are employed, compared to 80 per cent of non-disabled people.

Out-of-work benefits for disabled people cost £19 billion a year, while the Exchequer loses £21 billion–£29 billion a year in foregone tax and national insurance revenue due to health-related joblessness.

Chief Executive of the CSJ, Andy Cook, commented:

"The disability employment gap is a social justice issue. Despite having one of the most robust and flexible labour markets in the world, millions of disabled people in the UK are not able to enjoy the financial, health and emotional gains associated with employment.

“By letting this happen, we are undermining our economy and we are shredding the social fabric of our society.

“It is time to change this. Employers have everything to gain from increasing the number of disabled people in their workforce. The reality is that employers who do not hire disabled people miss out on talented, committed employees.

“This report provides ways of meeting the challenges that disabled people face in the labour market, offering a clear blueprint for a more inclusive, productive and robust labour force – one in which everybody, no matter what challenges they face, can achieve their full potential.”

According to a CSJ poll, almost two thirds (63 per cent) of HR decision makers think there are barriers to hiring disabled people. Their biggest two concerns are ability to do the job (34 per cent) and the cost of making reasonable adjustments in the workplace (31 per cent).

Only a third (33 per cent) of employers have hired a disabled person in the last year, and fewer than one in ten (nine per cent) of employers think there is usually a strong business case for hiring a disabled person.

The report also finds that the Government has failed to make businesses aware of the advice and services it offers to help employ disabled people.

While 300,000 people a year fall out of work due to health conditions, the ‘Fit for Work’ programme, which offers employees and employers free work-related health advice to help reduce sickness absence, had an uptake of only around 9,000 people in eighteen months.

Just 25 per cent of employers know what Fit for Work is and understand the help that they can get from this service.

The Government will not succeed in its pledge to halve the disability employment gap if it does not help employers overcome their misgivings about hiring disabled people.

The CSJ is recommending that Fit for Work should be rebranded. The report states: “At its heart, it is a national occupational health service – free at the point of delivery. It should be named to reflect just that.”

The think tank is also calling for the Government to introduce a duty for employers who do not have private occupational health services to have an early conversation with Fit for Work where employees have been absent for three weeks, to help prevent absences becoming long-term.

Halving the disability employment gap was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment. In the 2015 Autumn Statement, the Government reaffirmed its intention to narrow the disability employment gap. A full report of proposals is expected in the coming months.

Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive of Employment Related Services Association, who contributed to the report, commented:

“Today’s report is a timely and important reminder that we must do more to help disabled people to enter the labour market. It is a moral outrage that millions of disabled people who can and want to work are currently unable to do so. It also makes no business sense.

“Bold action is required if the government is serious about halving the disability employment gap. In this light, the report sets out practical but significant steps to meet this challenge, including harnessing the apprenticeship levy funding and investing in specialist employment support.

“To reach its target, the government must invest in supporting disabled people; not only because the Chancellor will reap the financial benefits, but also for the health and emotional gains for each individual. Ultimately, it is simply the right thing to do.” 

CEO of Business Disability Forum, Diane Lightfoot, who was also on the report’s working group commented:

“Business Disability Forum welcomes this report and in particular, the recognition that engaging employers is fundamental to closing the disability employment gap. Many of our members and partners are truly leading the way when it comes to recruitment and retention of disabled employees.

However, almost two thirds of employers surveyed for this report perceive barriers to employing someone with a disability with one of the largest concerns being around work place adjustments. Yet, not only are most adjustments tiny, but Access to Work can meet the costs of those that would be unreasonable for an employer to pay.

“Far more needs to be done if this remarkably effective benefit is to move from being the government’s ‘best kept secret’ to become a significant enabler towards work.”

Tim Cooper, Chief Executive of United Response, disability charity and supported employment specialist on the report’s working group commented:

“We welcome the publication of this report today. For the last two decades statistics around disability employment have hardly changed and remain shockingly low.  People with learning disabilities are the most marginalised of all disability groups when it comes to employment, with only 5.8 per cent currently in paid employment.  Although 65 per cent of people with a learning disability want to work this group’s employment rate continues to fall at a time when all others rise.

“Through our own work we know that access to specialist employment support opens the job market to people with learning disabilities. We are pleased to see recommendations in the report today supporting this point by calling for specific specialist employment support contracts to be made available for people with learning disabilities.”


Download the CSJ report (PDF)