Businesses still discriminating against disabled, report reveals

Published: 3 Nov 2014 07:30

ONE in five employees with a disability feel they are unsupported and discriminated against in the workplace, according to the findings of a survey commissioned by London-based employment law experts Leigh Day - a number of whose solicitors studied at the University of Edinburgh.

The survey published today (3 November 2014) and entitled the 'Purple Workforce', found that one in five people with a disability felt they were discriminated against in employment, while almost half admitted they would not feel comfortable disclosing a disability when applying for a new job.

It comes amidst a fierce debate over disabled people in the workplace following comments by Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, that some disabled people were “not worth” paying the minimum wage.

Three-quarters of those questioned gave their reason for being reluctant to reveal details of their disability as fear of discrimination rather than personal factors such as embarrassment.

Of those with a disability and in employment, one in six said they do not feel supported by colleagues, while one in four felt senior management or their employer didn’t support them.

Furthermore, the survey revealed that less than half had asked for adjustments to accommodate their disability as they did not want to draw attention to themselves and of those who did make a request nearly a third said they received little or no help following their request.

The findings of the report describe a disabled workforce where prejudice is resulting in a high cost to society due to wasted talent, lower tax revenues and higher welfare costs.

According to lawyers at Leigh Day, it highlights that, despite progress in legislation and social attitudes, discrimination is still stopping disabled people from participating fully in the workforce, which has a negative impact for individuals and society as their potential contribution is wasted.

Emma Satyamurti, employment and discrimination law expert at Leigh Day, said: “The findings of this report are alarming and, in light of the recent comments by Lord Freud, further supports the argument that there is a lack of understanding of how much talent the business community is discarding by perpetuating these out of date prejudices.

“And there’s a high cost to society too, in the economic drain of wasted talent, lower tax revenues, and higher welfare costs. Not all disabled people are in a position to work, but for too many the obstacles are caused by barriers in the world of work not their disability.”

“If you are struggling with a disability, long-term unemployment or underemployment can impose a doubly heavy burden, in terms of financial poverty and also through the pain of social isolation and low self-esteem.

“A decent job provides more than a salary; it provides a role, not just in the narrow sense of the job description but a purposeful connection with other people and a sense of contributing to a shared enterprise.”

Speaking on the importance of the latest report, Emma commented: “The findings of this report ultimately suggest that there is still significant discrimination in the workplace, and so we will be holding a roundtable discussion in the spring to bring key individuals in the field of employment and disability together, to start to form a plan of action in time for a new Government.”

Anna Bird, group head of policy, research and public affairs at disability charity Scope said: “Disabled people are pushing hard to find jobs and get on at work, but they continue to face huge barriers.

“Nine in ten disabled people have worked at some point – but only half are in employment now.

“We know that the attitudes of employers are absolutely crucial in ensuring that disabled employees succeed and progress in the workplace. Yet all too often, disabled people tell us that they face negative attitudes at interview, or when in their role.

“Many disabled people are also falling out of work, when simple adjustments could be made by workplaces to enable them to stay in work and progress in their careers.

“Scope has set out a series of actions for the next government to increase the numbers of disabled people in work, which is vital to improving disabled people’s living standards over the next five years.

“But all of us – employers, employees and the public - need to play our part, to make work places more flexible, welcoming environments where disabled people flourish rather than struggle.”

There are over 6.9 million people with disabilities of working age in Great Britain, nearly a fifth of the total working-age population, yet less than half (46.5%) are employed in comparison to 76.4% of people who do not have a disability*.

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