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Disabled employment back on track to pre-pandemic levels

The proportion of disabled people in work has risen to pre-pandemic levels, having dipped during COVID-19.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed 52.7% of disabled people were employed by June 2021, rising above June 2019’s figure of 52.6%.

This represents an overall rise in employment of disabled people of 9% since 2013.

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The long-term rise has been attributed by the ONS to an increasing population of disabled people (from 1.5 million to 4.4 million,) a strong labour market (excluding the pandemic), and a narrowing of the disability employment gap.

Independent diversity and inclusion consultant Toby Mildon, told HR magazine he was pleased by the news, but that companies should not stop there.

“It’s encouraging to see disability employment levels bounce back from pre-pandemic levels but there’s still so much employers need to do to reduce inequalities,” he said.

“We have seen an increase in mental health conditions in recent times so employers need to implement mental wellbeing support more now than ever."

The number of disabled people with a mental health condition as their main condition has increased by 850,000 (69%) between 2013/14 and 2020/21.

Similarly, Mildon said, the type and quality of employment is important to equality.

“We are still finding disabled people in lower-skilled roles, part-time jobs and self-employment, perhaps because it’s harder for a disabled person to work for somebody else if the necessary adjustments aren’t forthcoming.”

Employers, he said, play a critical role in reducing inequalities in employment across society.

“We need to be investing in training and employment of disabled people so that we’re on a level playing field with non-disabled people. And this has to be consistent across all sectors,” he added.

Emily Alexander, founder of wellbeing consultancy The Joy Dept, also said she found the data promising.

She said: “With the taboo around disability fading, it is great to see employers adopting more inclusive recruitment methods, although there is still a lot more work to be done.

"It has been brilliant to see many new disability specialist recruitment companies starting up in the past 12 months. That shows we are moving in the right direction as a society.”

Cheney Hamilton, CEO of job search site Find Your Flex, added that the narrowing of the disability employment gap may be attributed to increasing opportunity for flexible work.

“Flexible working continues to be the benchmark that people of diverse backgrounds use to decide who they want to work for.

“They see it as an inclusivity statement that shares more about the culture of that company than any other act or policy creates."