More than a quarter of disabled workers stuck in insecure work, study shows

New research suggests that more than a quarter of disabled workers in the UK are trapped in severely insecure jobs.

The study, by researchers at Lancaster University’s Work Foundation, found that disabled workers are 1.5 times more likely to be in severely insecure work compared to their non-disabled peers and are more likely to be in ‘involuntary temporary work’ – meaning they would prefer to be on permanent contracts.

a beach scene with a bicycle in the water

The new report is based on the latest wave of analysis from the Work Foundation’s UK Insecure Work Index, based on data captured in the ONS Labour Force Survey April-June 2022.

Ben Harrison, director of the Work Foundation, said: ‘The UK economy is under pressure. Our labour market continues to hold record numbers of vacancies and the numbers of workers on long-term sick is at record levels – yet structural inequalities remain, stopping many groups of workers from accessing the good quality work they deserve.

‘While the government’s pledge back in 2017 to get ‘one million more disabled people back into work within a decade’ may have been achieved five years early – research shows the strategy of pushing them into ‘any work’ rather than quality, secure work risks not only workers’ health, but also that of the wider economy.

‘Having a bad experience or feeling trapped in severely insecure work can worsen their conditions – or can push them to leave the labour market altogether.’

Data shows disabled people are over-represented in lower paid, more precarious work and are more likely to work part-time than non-disabled workers. While a shorter working week may be a personal choice to help manage health conditions or caring responsibilities for some, 10% of disabled workers said they would like to work more hours, compared to 7% of non-disabled workers.

The analysis also revealed:

  • Disabled workers are less likely to be with the same employer for more than two years, meaning they are missing out on key rights and protections such as access to redundancy pay
  • Disabled workers are more likely be self-employed because of the barriers they face in finding employment. 13% of disabled people are self-employed compared to nine percent of non-disabled people
  • Disabled women face a dual disadvantage and are approximately 2.2 times more likely to be in severely insecure work than disabled men
  • Disabled workers from ethnic minority backgrounds are slightly more likely to be in severely insecure work relative to white disabled workers
  • Nearly 40% of autistic workers and over a quarter of people with mental health conditions are in severely insecure work, compared to 20 percent with other disabilities and conditions
  • Disabled workers are less likely to have access to flexible working arrangements as they are more likely to be in ‘routine and semi-routine occupations’ (e.g. cashiers, bricklayers and waiters) where flexible working is less common. Disabled workers are less likely to be in professional and managerial work.

Over the last ten years, the employment rate for disabled people has been approximately 30 percentage points lower than non-disabled people.

Fazilet Hadi, head of policy at Disability Rights UK, said: ‘Disabled people are an asset to the workplace. Our lived experience often makes us fiercely driven, agile and adept problem solvers, with great interpersonal skills, and incisive insight into the commercial habits of the UK’s Disabled population. A fifth of the people in the UK are Disabled. The purple pound in the UK is worth £2.74bn. As long as employers continue to erroneously see us as a liability to the sick leave bill rather than strong assets in a diverse workforce, they are missing out on improved working culture and practices, diverse market growth and ultimately, profit.’

The report’s recommendations include the introduction of widespread flexibility in roles, an Employment Bill to shift the onus onto organisations to prove a worker is not eligible for employment rights and protections, and to protect disabled benefit claimants from conditionality for the first six months and include those with short-term health conditions.

Image: Jens Theeß


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