So now we know – one in five employers wouldn’t hire a disabled person

New figures suggest that the government isn’t going to achieve its stated aim of reducing the disability employment gap by crossing its fingers

James Moore
Tuesday 30 November 2021 14:05
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<p>‘People with known disabilities have long been aware that they have to be streets ahead of the competition just to get in front of an interview panel’ </p>

‘People with known disabilities have long been aware that they have to be streets ahead of the competition just to get in front of an interview panel’

We are facing crisis level labour shortages in some occupations, alongside the Covid-inspired “great resignation”. The combination of these two things ought to bring down the yawning disability employment gap, right? If disabled people can’t get hired now, when employers are desperately casting around for people, then they never will.

Oh dear! When headhunting firm PageGroup called in Opinium to poll a thousand business leaders, more than one in five (22 per cent) admitted they would be unlikely to hire someone with a known disability.

People with known disabilities have long been aware that they have to be streets ahead of the competition just to get in front of an interview panel. These figures demonstrate that, in many cases, even that won’t be enough.

The full results of the survey are being released ahead of the International Day of People With Disabilities on Friday – and they rather serve to explain why I feel a certain cynicism about this particular day. My inbox is currently overflowing with “inspiration porn” concocted by PR agencies. “I wanted to circle back on this and send the feature to you, just in case it’s of interest for the International Day of People with Disabilities this Friday,” said one. “It includes three inspirational stories of disabled people and the challenges they’ve faced in their work lives – please find it attached.”

I’m sorry, but no! Making inspiration porn of disabled people is a big part of the problem. Here’s a day to drool over these stories before moving on to the next thing while nothing changes! An international day will not address PageGroup’s figures and the mountain they clearly show that disabled people have to climb, or rather, wheel up.

PageGroup CEO Steve Ingham lost the use of his legs in a skiing accident a couple of years ago. So he gets it. It’s impossible to escape the problems faced by disabled people even if you live with the privileges accorded to you in CEO-land. Ingham has the capacity to help change the narrative. Headhunters, or recruitment consultants as they prefer to be known, have long been part of the problem. I’ve talked to charities and disabled people’s organisations about the experiences people have had with them. They aren’t pretty.

Ingham is at least aware of that. “For many years, the recruitment industry has not maximised the opportunity of progressing equality in the workplace for all,” he says. “As a result, disabled people have often been overlooked in hiring processes with recruiters fulfilling client demands for specific talent, rather than consulting on why they would benefit from widening their talent pools and focussing on different skills which the disabled community offer.”

So maybe this a step in the right direction. Ditto the ideas of Stephen Timms, whom I spoke to at the end of last week. The chair of the work and pensions select committee was positively fizzing with them. I have to admit I was surprised, as well as encouraged. I’ve spent the last few weeks chronicling the ugly ableist discrimination practiced by local authorities, such as the City of York Council and the London Borough of Waltham Forest. This is, I’m afraid, an all party problem that extends to all branches of government.

Hearing a politician clearly motivated to do things differently therefore came as a welcome surprise. The problem, of course, is that one of the reasons we were speaking was the response Timms’s committee had just received from the government to its report on the disability employment gap. Official figures show that the disability employment rate was 52.7 per cent in the second quarter of 2021, compared to 81 per cent for non-disabled people, a gap, or rather a chasm, of 28.3 per cent. It is closing a bit, but at the speed of a dispeptic snail.

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The report, published in July, urged the department for work and pensions to give it a kick by making “a renewed effort to break down unacceptable barriers disabled people face in the labour market”. Among other things, it called for the DWP to adopt a target of halving the gap, which it briefly committed to under the Cameron government until the target was downgraded to an aspiration before being quietly dropped.

Now the DWP talks about getting one million extra disabled people into work, although it isn’t at all clear how it plans to do even that. Its response to the report could be described as limp, or maybe tepid, if you were feeling particularly charitable.

Timms noted the barriers disabled people, both in work and looking for jobs, come up against – “barriers in the labour market that nobody who is simply trying to earn a living should have to face”. Can I get a hear hear?

PageGroup’s figures speak to that. They also rather suggest that the government isn’t going to achieve its stated aim by crossing its fingers and hoping the labour market will fix things on its own so it can claim the credit. More is needed from industry, clearly, as Ingham has noted. But also from the government. Right now the latter is failing dismally. I guess that’s another one to add to the list.

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