UK: Mind the Pay Gap that Exists for People with Disabilities

By Ryan Bradshaw and Claire Powell © Leigh Day January 23, 2020
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DIverse co-workers, including a wheelchair user

​It  is easy to assume that in the United Kingdom (U.K.) in 2020 a physical or mental disability will not determine your salary.

However, figures from the Office of National Statistics have shown that the employment landscape in the U.K. is far from inclusive. The pay gap for workers with disabilities is at a shocking 12.2 percent, with average pay at 10.63 pounds (approximately $13.94) per hour, in comparison with 12.11 pounds (approximately $15.88) for nondisabled employees. The largest pay gap is by those with a mental impairment—such as depression, anxiety or mental illness—at 18.6 percent.

Approximately a quarter of the difference can be attributed to qualifications or choice of occupation. This leaves three-quarters of the pay gap to be explained by discrimination.

So why is this still an issue in a modern, civilized society, and what can be done to challenge it?

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal to discriminate against a person on the basis of a disability. The Equality Act says a person with a disability is someone with a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Long term means more than 12 months.

Discrimination can be direct or indirect and can take many forms. A person should not be fired for his or her disability. Section 20 of the Equality Act confirms that an employer also has a duty to make reasonable adjustments for an employee with a disability and Section 21 states that if it fails to do so, it is discrimination. An example of a reasonable adjustment could be issuing a job application form for a visually impaired candidate with a larger, clearer font size.

So if discrimination is illegal, why is there still a pay gap?

Laws mean nothing if you cannot enforce them. The Equality Act has been criticized for issues with its practical application, issues that have been compounded by public-sector cuts. Law centers and legal aid providers have been drastically reduced and free employment law advice is limited. Specialist discrimination advisors are in short supply, meaning victims of discrimination are not being made aware of the rights they have or how to bring a claim.

With strict time limits on when a claim can be brought—three months minus one day in the Employment Tribunal and six months minus one day in the civil courts from the last act of discrimination—and a lack of lawyers to bring them, it is hardly surprising that employers are not being challenged. Added to that, research shows that half of businesses say that it is easier to recruit a nondisabled person over a person with a disability and almost a quarter of people think people with disabilities need to adapt better to a business's culture.

The perception that those with a physical or mental disability are "work-shy," or a burden to employers must be addressed. Just as the social model of disability asks society to change and adapt to suit all people, so employers should provide opportunities for all potential employees and challenge discrimination when it occurs.

Appropriate employment opportunities are crucial to addressing the pay gap and ongoing discrimination faced by people with disabilities in the U.K. The government must invest in key services and support for potential employees, create and strengthen existing legislation, and ensure that employers are held to account for their actions.

As individuals we should: remember rights, recognizing discrimination in the workplace and knowing how to challenge it is critical; challenge negative assumptions; and be proactive, implementing practices that benefit all employees.

Ryan Bradshaw and Claire Powell are attorneys with Leigh Day in Manchester, U.K. © 2020 Leigh Day. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission of Lexology.

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