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Update on the Labour Market Status of Disabled People

21 May 2020

Update on the Labour Market Status of Disabled People

On May 19th, 2020, the Office for National Statistics released its quarterly summary on the labour market status of disabled people, covering April 2013 up to March 2020. This post discusses those statistics, and concludes with some informed speculation on what the employment situation might be like for disabled people coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what we can do about it.

Click on the graphs to open larger versions.

The first graph below shows the overall change in disabled people’s employment rates over the past seven years, with seperate graphs for men and women. It hit a low of 43.8% in July-Septempber 2013, and topped out at 54.6% in October-December 2019. The most recent quarter covering the first three months of 2020 54.2% of working age disabled people were in employment.

While the slightly higher employment rates of disabled men mirror trends amongst non-disabled people, the gap in employment rates between disabled men and women is much smaller than between non-disabled men and women. Over the past seven years, the gender gap for disabled people has averaged 2.4%, compared to 9.2% for non disabled people. In fact the maximum gap between disabled men and women of 5.1% is still less than the minimum gap between 6.8% non disabled men and women.

This trend is also illustrated in the second graph below, showing the overall employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people. The overall gap hit a high of 34.1% in July-September 2015, and a low 27.6% in the last three months of 2019. The employment gap for disabled men and women follow more-or-less the same trend, with disabled women having an employment gap of 6-7 percentage points lower than disabled men.

Disabled People's employment gaps

Disabled people’s employment during and post COVID-19

So far we don’t have a great idea of what the long term impact of the COVID-19 pandemci on disabled people’s employment will be. While disabled people are slightly more likely to be working in sectors without a history of home working, many business have made significant changes to allow more staff to work from home. Likewise the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality and retail sectors, which employs many disabled people, is unclear.

A report from the Resolution Foundation titled “The effects of the coronavirus crisis on workers” shows more job losses amongst people in the lowest fifth of the earning’s distribution, and among people on temporary contracts. The Resolution Foundation also found that young workers (18-24) were more likely to lose their job, lose pay or be furloughed.

While the overall impact of the crisis remains unknown, there are two groups of disabled people we are particularly concerned will be heavily impacted, albeit for different reasons. They are:

  1. Young disabled people at the start of their careers.
  2. Disabled people over the age of 50.

Young disabled people will face the double whammy of being early career workers during a recession, as well as the existing barriers disabled people face trying to find and sustain work. The UK government desperately needs to take steps to ensure that young disabled people do not face the “scarring” effects on pay and employment caused by entering a labour market in recession.

The other group that appears to be particularly at risk are disabled people in their 50s and 60s. They are likely to face pressure from their family, their GP, their employer and themselves to consider retiring early, or cutting back their hours. This is particularly likely to be the case for a newly acquired disability, and if they have to take extensive time away from work to recover from the injury or illness that has caused their impairment, they will have to overcome additional and unfamiliar barriers. Retiring early in such circumstances is understandable, but it will have a significant financial and social impact on that individual, as well as cost valuable institutional memory and experience among employers. A fifty-five-year-old today has a state pension age of 67; 12 years is a long time to wait, particularly considering the insufficiencies of Universal Credit.

We will keep monitoring new research and data as it is released in order to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on disabled people’s employment, and work to ensure that the economy post-COVID-19 is more accessible and inclusive than it was before.

This post was written by Evan Odell