Disabled people plunged into employment crisis by COVID, survey finds

The Government needs to act now to avoid a jobs crisis for disabled people, the Leonard Cheshire charity warns

A leading UK disability charity is calling on the Government to provide further support for disabled people, who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, following the findings of its latest survey.

The study by Leonard Cheshire shows that 7 in 10 disabled people employed in March (71%) have been impacted by a loss of income, furlough, unemployment or other damaging effects as a result of the pandemic.

Forty-two per cent of employers were discouraged from hiring disabled job applicants due to concerns around supporting them properly during the pandemic. In contrast, 1 in 5 employers (20%) say they would be less likely to hire someone if they were disabled.

Crisis of confidence

The charity’s study surveyed 1171 working-age disabled people and 502 employers, revealing the scale of the impact on jobs from COVID-19.

It uncovered a ‘crisis of confidence’, among young disabled people who are pessimistic about their futures.

At the same time, the study seems to suggest that representation of disabled people in the workplace is in decline amid lingering discrimination in the employment of disabled people.

Seventy-one per cent of disabled people who were employed in March had their employment impacted in some way by the pandemic: such as being furloughed, losing income, feeling at risk of redundancy, or losing their jobs.

Impact on disabled people

For many disabled 18-24-year olds, this impact was psychological. More than half (57%) said they felt that the pandemic had affected their ability to work, and 54% that it had hit their future earnings potential.

Sophia Kleanthous, an alumna of Leonard Cheshire’s Change 100 programme based in London, said: “In the past, I’ve been told I didn’t get a job I applied for because they were concerned my health would ‘get in the way’, that they needed someone who could be relied upon (referring to my disability) and that I’d be a burden to the company. This has to change.”

Separate figures cited by the report hinted that this impact disproportionately fell on disabled people. Analysis from Spring by the Institute for Employment Studies found that 40% of disabled employees were either furloughed or had their hours reduced, compared with only 30% of non-disabled employees.


Falling numbers

Employers seemed to be discouraged from hiring disabled people due to the pandemic. Two in five (42%) of employers said that a barrier to doing so is being able to support them properly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a fifth (20%) admitted they were less likely to hire a disabled person overall.

Meanwhile, the proportion of employers who say their organisation employs any disabled staff has fallen to 33% in 2020, a 16-percentage point drop from 2018 (49%). Only 21% had hired any disabled people since 2018.

Leonard Cheshire has urged the Government to act on the problems uncovered by the report. In particular, the charity pointed to measures in its own ‘Plan For Jobs’, published earlier this month.

Inclusive Plan For Jobs

The Plan For Jobs outlines ways of ensuring the economic recovery from COVID-19 is disability-inclusive. These consist of preserving the furlough scheme for shielders, introducing a Job Guarantee for young people, and overhauling Universal Credit to protect disabled people from hardship. It also proposes measures to make employers more inclusive, such as mandatory reporting on disability employment rates and pay.

Leonard Cheshire also called for improvements to employment programmes for young people such as the Kickstart scheme. It pointed to its own employment scheme for young disabled people, Change 100 as an example of how such programmes could continue during the pandemic.

Change 100 arranged 40 internships for disabled students and graduates in 2020 regardless of the pandemic. It also helped 52 students and graduates secure remote mentoring with employers.

Gemma Hope, Head of Policy at Leonard Cheshire, said: “Our findings are stark. But we should see them not as gloomy forecasts for policymakers but as motivators for immediate, wide-ranging action. We must stress that prompt, decisive action can stop the trends we have identified from becoming more serious.

“Still, we cannot understate the urgency of the challenge. Our study suggests that inclusive practices at employers have been put at risk by fears relating to COVID-19 as the economic outlook darkens.

“We urge the Government to take on the recommendations we make in the Plan For Jobs, and work with businesses to make our recovery from this downturn an inclusive one.”

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