COVID-19 has widened the disability pay gap 

This week started with some good news on vaccines as the government announced that the four most vulnerable groups had been offered a jab, and over 90 per cent of those invited had taken up the offer.

With over 15 million UK citizens now vaccinated for the first time, it appears that the light at the end of the tunnel may be shining a little brighter.

But not for everyone.

The pandemic has never actually been a leveller. Women have been at a higher risk of furlough or job loss, BAME people have been at greater risk of severe illness and children who live in homes unable to provide speedy broadband and laptops have lost a year of their education.

The gaps are widening, and in the case of disabled people the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly cruel. The disability pay gap has increased from 15 per cent in 2019 to 20 per cent in 2020, and the 2021 figure is unlikely to reverse the trend.

On average disabled workers earn £2.10 less than a non-disabled person and £3,800 less per year. Disabled people are more likely to work in part-time and low paid jobs and are all too often asked to give their time for free.

A report from the Leonard Cheshire charity reveals that over 70 per cent of disabled people who were in employment in March 2020 have been affected by the virus, either through loss of income or redundancy. The report also found that disabled people had lost confidence in their job prospects, almost half of respondents saying the pandemic had negatively affected their ability to work, and this was higher among younger respondents.

In January, Professor Dame Carol Black gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, advising that employers needed to take a more people-centred approach to closing the disability employment gap. In June 2020 the unemployment rate for disabled people was at 6.5 per cent compared to 3.5 per cent of people who are not disabled.

While employers need to make adjustments to policy and practice to help retain disabled workers, in her advice to MPs Black put a great deal of emphasis on the role of line managers who had been trained in mental and physical health. In turn, ensuring that managers are appropriately trained is the responsibility of the board and requires strong leadership.

In the housing sector, all too often disabled people face problems in finding adequate accommodation, and that is a major impediment to independent living. There is a shortage of appropriate and accessible housing across the UK and the percentage of disabled people in social housing, at 25 per cent, is three times the 8 per cent of non-disabled people.

Isolation and anxiety

Recent research by Scope, the disability equality charity, has said that disabled people have felt cut-off during the pandemic and are suffering anxiety following a year of shielding. The research shows it has been difficult for many to get support from the government and councils, while 44 per cent of respondents reported having difficulty getting deliveries from supermarkets. Over half of disabled people who live alone have not seen anyone outside their support bubble since the start of the pandemic, while 20 per cent have not even seen their support bubble.

Disabled people have suffered poor provision of services, suffered isolation and have seen their opportunities hindered in the world of work. The COVID-19 pandemic has simply made things harder for many, and it falls to everyone; government, service providers and businesses to make big improvements in 2021.

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