UK disability employment gap ‘made worse’ by pandemic, Labour warns

·3-min read

Britain’s disability employment gap has been “made worse” by the coronavirus pandemic, with disabled workers more likely to be furloughed or have their hours reduced, Labour has said.

Speaking on the eve of the government launching its national strategy for disabled people, Labour’s chair Anneliese Dodds said there is “a big issue in the UK” around the employment of disabled people, with a 28.6% gap in employment between disabled and non-disabled people.

“In many respects, that’s been made worse during the [coronavirus] crisis, and we’re saying to the government, you’ve got to take action here. People want to be able to work.”

The Oxford East MP’s comments came as she visited Nuneaton Signs in Warwickshire, a social enterprise that employs almost 30 disabled people and those with mental health conditions, to announce Labour’s pledge to end insecure work and introduce employment rights from day one.

With almost one in five disabled workers in Nuneaton currently unemployed, the Oxford East MP also conceded that there is “a huge amount that needs to be done” to address employment for disabled people.

“We’ve said, first of all, that when it comes to every employment-focused policy, with all of the Covid-related measures, that they should have had an assessment of their impact on equality and disabled people from the very, very beginning.

“We simply didn’t, there’s been no assessment of their impact, and actually, we’ve seen in many cases, disabled people are more likely to be put on furlough, who are really worried about their futures, so the government’s got to think again there.”

It follows an announcement on Monday that Labour would create a single ‘worker’ status for all employees except those who are self-employed, with rights issued to them from their first day on the job.

It’s one of five principles being put forward by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and the rest of his shadow cabinet across the summer, with other policies including a job guarantee for young people, a £10 minimum wage and the right to flexible working.

Ms Dodds, who also leads on the party’s post-coronavirus Stronger Together campaign, added: “Far too often, what we’ve seen is flexibility purely for the employer, and not for the employee. That’s been the situation for a very long time and it’s got worse during the crisis. That’s why Labour’s setting out today a new deal for working people.

“There should be that security from your first day in work, and actually, many, many employers support this, because they know when they’ve got a stable workforce who are committed, then actually, that’s great for morale, that’s great for productivity, that’s great for the profitability of the business, and that’s what we need to see in our country.”

Michelle Knight, a wheelchair user who works in sales and marketing at Nuneaton Signs, said staff are “like a little family” in the business.

“I don’t feel, with being in the chair and everything, I don’t feel like an outsider. I feel comfortable in my disability being here.”

In a statement, Justin Tomlinson MP, the minister for disabled people, said: “This Conservative Government have delivered record disability employment and has set an ambitious target to get 1 million more disabled people in work by 2027.

“Even during the unprecedented challenge of Covid over the last year – the disability employment gap has closed further.

“Our support through the Covid pandemic was one of the most generous in the world and we will continue to support people as we recover though our multi-billion-pound Plan for Jobs - supporting disabled jobseekers to find and retain fulfilling careers.”

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