Scandal of disabled civil servants' pay

Able-bodied colleagues earn thousands more

Ben Russell,Home Affairs Correspondent
Saturday 07 February 2009 01:00 GMT

Disabled people working in government departments are being paid up to a third less than their able-bodied colleagues. Figures from the annual Civil Service employment survey show that people declaring themselves disabled at the Home Office, where the pay gap was greatest, were paid £21,730, compared to £32,480 for people who said they had no disabilities.

The statistics, compiled in 2007, reveal a 22 per cent gap between disabled and able-bodied staff in the Department for International Development, a 16 per cent pay gap at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and a 14 per cent gap in the Treasury and the Foreign Office.

The Cabinet Office insisted that people were paid the same whether or not they were disabled and said it had greatly increased the number of disabled people working in the Civil Service and was aiming to have disabled people in 5 per cent of the most senior posts within five years.

But Mark Harper, the Conservative shadow minister for disabled people who made the analysis, accused ministers of doing too little to promote equal pay for disabled people. He said: "These figures reveal that the disability pay gap is as rife in Government as the gender pay gap. Labour needs to explain why the focus on pay in the Equality Bill appears so heavily weighted towards the gender pay gap and ignores the plight of its own disabled employees in the public sector. Gordon Brown needs to wake up to the disability pay gap and get the Government's own house in order before lecturing others."

Official figures suggest that the average hourly pay of disabled workers is about 10 per cent below that of people without disabilities, although some estimates put the gap as high as 26 per cent. The unemployment rate for disabled people in 2006 was 9 per cent, compared with 5 per cent for people without disabilities.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) that represents civil servants, said it was negotiating with employers to close the pay gap. A spokesman said: "It is important to look at the underlying factors that explain why there is a gap in pay and look at how we could address them."

Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said: "We fear the situation is even worse in the private sector. Employers who put barriers up that prevent disabled people from progressing in their careers are missing out on wasted talent."

Guy Parckar, the public policy manager at the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, said disabled people faced huge hurdles gaining employment. He said: "There are probably all sorts of reasons behind this. Disabled people are less likely to have qualifications so the disadvantage goes back to the education system. They are more likely to face barriers throughout their lives."

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "Civil servants' salaries are based on their pay grade and their performance, not whether or not they have a disability. The proportion of civil servants with a disability has more than doubled since 2001 and the Civil Service Diversity Strategy is building on this progress, helping us ensure that our workforce reflects the society we serve."

Liz Sayce: It's high time Britain finally addressed the 'disability gap'

The figures are stark: disabled men are paid 11 per cent less than non-disabled men, while disabled women are paid 22 per cent less than non-disabled men as disability and gender gaps combine.

Yet the term "disability pay gap" barely features in public debate and initiatives on equal disability pay are notable by their absence.

So why is this an issue that has been so neglected? One reason is chronically low expectations of the one in five Britons living with a long-term health condition or disability. From the employment adviser who suggested a blind media professional build beds in a workshop, to the mental health team advising an executive to take a "less stressful" non-managerial job, low expectations are disastrous.

Even the rhetoric of welfare to work has portrayed a job – any job – as the goal. The government goal of "inclusion of disabled people in the workplace" contrasts sharply with that of equal pay by gender. Historically, disabled people have had to be grateful for getting work at all; young disabled people, with few role models, have much lower expectations than their non-disabled counterparts by the age of 26. They regularly work below their potential.

This can change, if the Government speeds up integration of skills and employment support to ensure disabled people emerge from the recession equipped to secure good jobs with decent pay; if employers nurture the talents of employees; if health and social care professionals raise expectations, enabling clients to prosper. With disability friendly workplaces, flexible working and acceptance of the human experience of disability, more disabled people will reach senior roles, be open about their disability and become much-needed role models. This benefits everyone: individuals, companies and our country.

Liz Sayce is chief executive of the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (Radar)

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