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HR needs inclusive policies for disability pay gap to continue shrinking

New data has revealed the gap in median pay between disabled employees and non-disabled employees improved marginally between 2019-21, but is still worse than it was in 2014 – and significant pay gaps still remain.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the disability pay gap was 13.8% last year – a slight improvement on the 14.1% recorded for 2019 – but still worse than the 11.7% recorded eight years ago.

In real terms, this equated to a £1.93 difference per hour between disabled and non-disabled workers.

Within this overall figure though, the data revealed some significant differences in pay.

Speaking to HR magazine, David Whitfield co-founder and CEO at HR DataHub said: “It’s still the case that disability is still the forgotten characteristic, even though it covers the largest group of people: around one in five workers have a disability of some sort.”

Whitfield argued the pay gap was likely to be even higher than the headline figure, because workers still felt uneasy about even declaring they had a disability – which then put them off applying for senior, more highly-paid roles.

Employees with autism as their main impairment experienced the widest pay gap – at around 33.5%.

Meanwhile those with severe or specific learning difficulties were paid 29.7% less.

For those with epilepsy, the gap was 25.4%; while for those with back or neck disabilities, the pay gap was 9.5%.

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The size of pay gaps increased alongside the number of impairments.

Those with six or more impairments experienced a pay gap of around 20%, compared to a pay gap of 11.7% for those with one impairment and a gap of 17.8% for those with three to five impairments.

In a reversal of typical statistics though, the disability pay gap is worse for men (12.4%) compared to women (10.5%). Pay gaps are higher in Scotland (where the gap is 18.5%) and lowest in Wales (11.6%).

Speaking to HR magazine David Plotkin, who runs employment law firm, Plotkin & Chandler (and who himself has cerebral palsy), said: “While we have to accept there are more complex factors behind the headline – for instance, disabled people tend to work fewer hours to start with and may have achieved lower education levels – it’s still the case that this gap is a symptom of a much bigger problem.

“HR professionals have to ask themselves why it is that a certain role is only part-time when it could be full-time, and how they can better accommodate disabled peoples’ needs."

The data showed that when accommodations were made for staff, the pay gap would shrink - suggesting HR could be doing more.

When employers made accommodations for disabled employees with autism as their main impairment, the pay gap fell from 33.5% to 9.9%.

Plotkin added: “While I’m not surprised the pay gap has pretty much stayed static, everyone needs to be treated differently in their employment journey.

“Companies need to assess whether they are introducing stereotypes or introducing policies which are not inclusive.”

For this reason, Molly Johnson-Jones – who has an autoimmune disease – and is founder of Flexa Careers, said employers must not now change their mind on allowing disabled workers to work from home.

She told HR magazine: “With many employers now planning full-time office returns, we risk chucking away the small step towards progress that working flexibly has created.

"All employers have a responsibility to put inclusivity and accessibility at the heart of their hiring plans and do better.”

Amo Raju, CEO, Disability Direct, added: “While I’m not convinced company directors sit in board-rooms purposely lowering hourly rates of pay for disabled people, in my experience it is usually caused by ignorance which creates inequalities within companies.”

Commenting on the findings, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the ONS statistics prove “disabled workers deserve better.” She added: “It’s time for big employers to be forced to publish their disability pay gaps, to help shine a light on poor workplace practices that fuel inequality at work. Otherwise, millions of disabled workers will continue to face lower pay and in-work poverty.”

Last November the TUC published research that found two in five (40%) disabled workers have been pushed into financial hardship over the last year.

Scope has also published research revealing disabled people are financially worse off to begin with, because they have higher living costs associated with living with their disability.