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Half of UK disabled mothers furloughed in pandemic

Disabled parents have faced greater disruptions to their work and income during the pandemic than non-disabled parents.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, half (49%) of disabled mothers in the UK have been furloughed compared to one-third (34%) of non-disabled mothers.

Research by women’s charity the Fawcett Society also found almost three times (20%) the number of disabled mothers than non-disabled mothers (7%) lost their main job during the pandemic.

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Among all parents, the most reported reason for furlough was a lack of work at their workplace due to business closures, as 43% of both groups cited this.

Disabled mothers and fathers faced additional barriers however to continue work as normal.

Over one-quarter (27%) of disabled parents reported they were furloughed because they were shielding, compared to less than one in ten (8%) of non-disabled parents.

Sophie Forrest, founder and managing director of HR support company ForrestHR, said while Fawcett’s figures are shocking, the devil is in the detail.

She told HR magazine: “This research is important in highlighting the experience of disabled parents during the pandemic, however medical needs and caring responsibilities partly explain this.”

Forrest said shielding and adult caring responsibilities were responsible for disabled employees losing out on work and money during the pandemic, but that HR must accommodate for this moving forward.

She said: “HR professionals need to be at the forefront of ensuring such discrimination has no place within 21st-century employers.

“They also need to ensure extra thought is given when making workplace changes and adjustments and how this affects disabled workers so that they can continue to make a positive contribution to their organisation.”

Forrest said occupational health and health and safety experts can provide appropriate guidance to help managers and HR leaders create inclusive workplaces, where valued staff can be retained even when circumstances dictate new ways of working.

“The best organisations celebrate diversity in all its forms to nurture the most creative, engaged, dynamic teams.

“We live in a diverse world, and our staff base should reflect this to ensure synergy with our customers, suppliers and collaborators,” she said.

The Fawcett Society said government and local councils must acknowledge the disproportionate impact disable working parents have faced over the past year and recommended some steps they should take.

The charity recommended it be made clear to employers that failure to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers, such as providing PPE or allowing home working where possible, is a form of unlawful discrimination.

To avoid disabled people being unfairly chosen for redundancy, Fawcett advised it be made a requirement that employers with more than 250 employees report redundancies due to the pandemic by protected characteristic including sex and disability. 

The charity also recommended all jobs be made flexible, unless there is a legitimate business requirement not to, to continue to support disabled people to work once the pandemic is over.