From education to employment

Two in five disabled workers pushed into hardship during pandemic

#DisabilityPayGap Day – @The_TUC poll finds disabled workers have been “hit hardest” in the wallet by Covid-19 and have faced financial hardship, increased debt and have been forced to use food banks.

Accompanying new TUC analysis finds non-disabled workers are now paid 16.5 per cent more a year than non-disabled workers

And disability charity Leonard Cheshire highlights discrimination against disabled workers, with 1 in 5 employers less likely to employ disabled people

  • New poll finds disabled workers have been “hit hardest” in the wallet by Covid-19 and have faced financial hardship, increased debt and have been forced to use food banks 
  • Accompanying new TUC analysis finds non-disabled workers are now paid 16.5 per cent more a year than non-disabled workers 
  • And disability charity Leonard Cheshire highlights discrimination against disabled workers, with 1 in 5 employers less likely to employ disabled people 

Two in five (40 per cent) disabled workers have been pushed into financial hardship over the last year, according to new TUC polling published today (Tuesday). 

The polling – carried out for the union body by BritainThinks – shows how disabled workers’ living standards have been “hit hardest” by Covid-19. 

And leading disability charity Leonard Cheshire is today adding its voice to TUC’s, publishing new research which shows the continuing stigma against disabled workers, and calling for action to break down barriers to employment for disabled people. 

Financial hardship 

Two in five (40 per cent) disabled workers told the TUC that they’ve faced financial difficulty during the pandemic compared to around one in four (27 per cent) non-disabled workers. 

They said that they had experienced: 

  • Increasing debt: More than one in six (16 per cent) of disabled workers said their level of debt have increased compared to around one in 10 (11 per cent) non-disabled workers. 

  • Cutting back on spending: Around three in 10 (28 per cent) disabled workers had been forced to cut back on spending, compared to around two in 10 (18 per cent) non-disabled workers. 

  • Using food banks: Disabled workers (six per cent) were twice as likely to have had to visit a food bank than non-disabled workers (three per cent). 

Disabled workers (22 per cent) were also twice as likely to say they were concerned about losing their jobs than non-disabled workers (11 per cent). 

‘Disability pay gap day’ 

The poll findings are published alongside new TUC analysis which shows that non-disabled employees earn on average £1.90 an hour (16.5 per cent) more than disabled employees – or £3,458 more a year (based on a 35-hour week).  

That means disabled workers effectively stop getting paid today, and work for free for the last 52 days of the year. The TUC has branded today ‘disability pay gap day’. 

And disabled women face an even bigger pay gap. Non-disabled men are paid on average 32 per cent (£3.50 an hour, or around £6,370 a year) more than disabled women. 

The £3,458 pay gap is the equivalent of: 

  • More than a year (13 months) of the average household expenditure on food and non-alcoholic drinks (£63.70 per week) or 

  • Nearly a year (10 months) of the average expenditure on housing, fuel and power (£83.00 per week) or 

  • Nearly a year (10 months) of what the average household spends on transport (£81.60 per week). 

Leading global disability charity Leonard Cheshire is releasing new research today (9 Nov) which reveals that disabled workers say they have been left behind by the Covid-19 recovery. 

The Leonard Cheshire study finds that the vast majority (89 per cent) of disabled young people aged 18-24 years old said that their work had been affected by the pandemic, and that one in five employers (19 per cent) would be less likely to employ a disabled person than a non-disabled person. 


Natalie Arnett, senior equalities officer for school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“These figures are a clear reminder that when it comes to equality, we still have a long way to go. It is completely unacceptable that in 2021, analysis from the TUC finds that non-disabled workers are paid 16.5 per cent more a year than disabled workers. And it’s not just pay that’s an issue, but also engagement in the job market itself.

“It is important that children and young people do not experience unfair barriers to achieving future aspirations. We know, from the limited data we have, that there is significant underrepresentation of individuals with a disability working in education; the latest workforce data suggests only about 2% of the teaching profession have a disability compared to around 20% of people in the UK.

“There needs to be far better recognition of disabled people’s employment needs in order to effectively support them in the workplace. However, this must be underpinned by ensuring that those with disabilities are valued appropriately and equitably for the work that they do.

“In reality, the cultural shift required to properly support individuals with disabilities must start right from the beginning and that means starting with children and young people. If the government are serious about addressing the issues of inequality, they must urgently publish the findings of their SEND review and commit the money needed to address the SEND crisis in schools. It is unacceptable that two years on from starting the review, the government has still not taken any action.”

The TUC and Leonard Cheshire are urging the government to act now to close the disability employment and pay gap and ensure disabled people gain and retain quality employment.  

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

 “Disabled workers have been hit hardest by Covid-19. Many have been pushed into financial hardship and left without a safety net. 

“With a cost-of-living crisis looming we need urgent action from ministers.  

“As we saw with the last financial crisis disabled people are all too often first in line for redundancy, and those who keep hold of their jobs face a yawning pay gap. 

“Disabled people deserve much better. We need mandatory disability pay gap reporting to shine a light on poor workplace practices that fuel inequality at work. 

“Without this, millions of disabled workers will be consigned to years of lower pay and in-work poverty.” 

Director of Policy at Leonard Cheshire Gemma Hope said:

“Disabled people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and employment support is vital to ensure they’re not further left behind. 

“Our research also suggests stubborn levels of stigma amongst employers and that young disabled people remain adrift in the current job market. 

“We call on government to increase efforts to support disabled job seekers and recruiters to continue working with us in recognising the depth of talent available.” 

Tom Lakin, Director of Innovation at Resource Solutions, provides further advice for employers to ensure their application process is inclusive for disabled workers:

“Many traditional recruitment processes and selection techniques disadvantage disabled workers. Employers have a responsibility to audit their careers content, policies and technologies to better understand where bias exists against people with disabilities. 

“Is your application process inclusive? Can candidates apply in a way that suits them? 

“Employers should be proactive in the adjustments that they make as a result of this audit as well as how they raise awareness of their updated process for candidates with disabilities. We suggest offering a menu of adjustments or an adjustments concierge to make informed suggestions rather than solely putting that responsibility on the candidate to educate the employer. These adjustments could include replacing digital assessments with voice or dictated responses to challenges. For example, we recently piloted accepting applications via voice note, WhatsApp and even paper CVs if preferred, empowering candidates to apply in a way that meets their needs.

“Language and branding also plays an integral role in ensuring that candidates with disabilities feel confident the employer is taking inclusion seriously. Many employers use legal terminology when offering reasonable adjustments to a hiring process, removing the human element of your new employee. Your language should instead focus on the value the person brings to the company, rather than just compliance to legislation.

“Our research shows 85% of employer branding content fails to include imagery of employees with a visible disability. At the very least, videos should include subtitles and websites should be designed with optimised accessibility features. Some websites are still difficult to use on a mobile device or cannot be navigated using a keyboard or inaccessible PDF forms that cannot be read out on screen readers, or with poor colour contrast that makes text difficult to read.

“Many employers are blocking the door for talented staff with disabilities. Simple steps to adjust the application process will help to create a clearer career path for this essential workforce.”

Government action needed 

The TUC is calling on the government to deliver: 

  • Mandatory disability pay gap reporting for all employers with more than 50 employees. This should be accompanied by a duty on bosses to produce targeted action plans identifying the steps they will take to address any gaps identified.
  • Enforcement of reasonable adjustments: The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should get specific funding to enforce disabled workers’ rights to reasonable adjustments. 
  • A stronger legal framework for adjustments: The EHRC must update their statutory code of practice to include more examples of reasonable adjustments, to help disabled workers get the adjustments they need quickly and effectively. This will help lawyers, advisers, union reps and human resources departments apply the law and understand its technical detail. 

Polling: The BritainThinks online survey was conducted between the 13-21 May 2021 with a sample of 2,134 workers in England and Wales – nationally representative according to ONS Labour Force Survey Data. 

What is disability pay gap day? The TUC introduced disability pay gap day in 2019. It is the day of the year when the average disabled person stops being paid, compared to the average non-disabled person. The overall disability pay gap of £1.90 an hour is calculated by a TUC analysis of Labour Force Survey statistics from 2020 Q3 and 4, and 2021 Q1 and Q2. 


Equality Act disabled 

Not Equality Act disabled 

Average hourly pay (£) 



Gap (£) 

£1.90 (16.5%) 

Pay gap by gender: pay gap compared to non-disabled men 


Median average hourly pay (£) 

Median average hourly pay gap (£) 

Pay gap (%) 


Non-disabled men 




Disabled men 




Non-disabled women 




Disabled women 




Disability pay gap: The TUC notes that the disability pay gap has fallen over the last 12 months, from 20% last year to 16.5%. But the union body believes this may have been affected by the temporary factors currently affecting pay data, as set out by the Office of National Statistics.  

Disability employment gap: Only around half (52.2%) of disabled people are in work, compared to four in five (80.9%) of non-disabled people – a gap of 28.7 percentage points.  

Causes of the disability pay and employment gaps: Many disabled people face a range of barriers to getting and staying in work, from a lack of transport to get there, or inadequate equipment or adjustments made once they are there. 

Other factors driving the pay and employment gaps are: 


Part-time working: A higher proportion of disabled people than non-disabled people work part-time. These are paid less per hour than full-time jobs.  


Low-paid work: Disabled people are over-represented in lower paid jobs like caring, leisure and other services and sales and customer services. 


Education: Some disabled people leave education earlier than non-disabled people. However, even where disabled and non-disabled people have the same qualifications there is still a big pay gap. 

The pay gap is also linked to unlawful discrimination, structural barriers and negative attitudes, says the TUC.

Disability pay gap reporting: To address the disability pay gap, the TUC wants the government to bring in mandatory disability pay gap reporting for all employers with more than 50 employees. The legislation should be accompanied by a duty on employers to produce targeted action plans identifying the steps they will take to address any gaps identified, including ensuring disabled workers with invisible impairments feel confident in completing workplace equality monitoring. 

Weekly average household expenditure on food and non-alcoholic drinks, fuel and power and transport are taken from ONS figures.  

Unfair treatment: In June the TUC published polling which showed that nearly one in three (30 per cent) disabled workers say that they’ve been treated unfairly at work during the Covid-19 pandemic:   

Leonard Cheshire research methodology: Savanta ComRes interviewed 1,201 working age disabled adults (18-65) in the UK between 20 August-13 September 2021. Data were weighted to be nationally representative of working age disabled adults in the UK by age, gender and region. Savanta ComRes interviewed 518 UK line managers with a responsibility for recruitment online between 20 August-13 September 2021. Data were weighted in both instances to be nationally representative of employers by region, company size and sector. Savanta ComRes are a member of the British Polling Council and abide by its rules. 

Speakers for Schools join forces with disability charities to provide 2,000 work placements to disabled young people

18th Oct 2021: New campaign to tackle disability employment gap by working with employers to deliver tailored placements for young people with disabilities or special educational needs (SEN)

Leading social mobility charity Speakers for Schools has partnered with disability organisations such as  Mencap, to provide work experience to 2,000 young people across the UK who have a disability or special educational needs (SEN). The charities are working with schools across the country and leading employers such as Tesco, Morgan Sindall and Cambridge University Press to deliver a mix of virtual and in-person work experience over the coming months.

The campaign, called Access All Areas, aims to make the world of work more accessible to young people with disabilities, broadening their career ambitions while supporting businesses to cater for workers with additional needs.

The work experience placements are available to young people aged 14-19 and take place throughout October and inspiring talks for all ages from Paul Maynard MP, Mark Evans, CMO of Direct Line Group, Jessica Taylor-Bearman, author and founder of Share a Star charity and more.

Recent research from Cebr also shows that flexible working could unlock almost 1.5 million people who have a physical disability, and were previously ‘locked out’ from work, to enter or return to the jobs market. It is therefore vital to ensure disabled young people are aware of the jobs available to them and that employers are supported with offering roles.

Rachael Saunders, Education and Policy Director at Speakers for Schools, said:

“Many young disabled people leave school to find themselves unemployed despite being able to work. The disability employment gap is alarming and needs to be urgently addressed, which is why we’ve launched Access All Areas, working with employers to raise awareness about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and working to identify roles they would excel at. Meanwhile, young people with additional needs require tailored careers guidance to help them feel confident when applying for jobs and knowing what’s out there.”

Employers are guided on the structure and length of work experience sessions to accommodate students’ diverse needs by Speakers for Schools’ teams. The charity also supports with the development of content to ensure it is clear, concise and uses appropriate and positive language. Students can participate over several weeks allowing employers to get to know the students, and each session is teacher-led and guided. Teachers and employers are trained to use the work experience platform which includes engaging and interactive tools like live polling to encourage interaction and accessibility for young people. Every model of working has been developed in collaboration with experienced partners who teach SEND students.

Rubie, 16, with Moderate Learning Difficulties from Derbyshire said:

“I am looking forward to seeing what opportunities there are, for future jobs and how people stay safe. I am looking forward to meeting the people at the hospital, everyone including Reception jobs, porters, seeing what a surgeon does and what the midwives do when people have babies.”

Jamie, 17, who has Autism and Moderate Learning Difficulties from Derbyshire said-

“We might not be surgeons because we don’t have GCSE’s but we can do lots of other jobs and see how many opportunities there are we could do for us too.”

Mark Capper, Head of Development in the Lifestyles & Work team at the learning disability charity Mencap, said: 

“We are delighted to be working with Speakers for Schools. Offering young people with a learning disability and / or autism a chance to engage with employers to get a sense of what having a job is like is a vital part of developing confidence and aspirations.

“Working can be more than just a job - it can make people with a learning disability and / or autism feel valued and included in society. Yet because of societal stigma and significant barriers to employment, many do not get the chance they deserve to show what they can do. Getting the right support and opportunities can make all the difference, helping people with a learning disability and / or autism to develop their employability and find work placements.”

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