The right to work and employment is a basic right of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). Yet in the UK, the latest data from the Labour Force Survey showed just half of disabled people were in employment (53.2 per cent) compared with just over four out of five non-disabled people (81.8 per cent). It is a similar story in the European Union, with just 50.6 per cent of disabled people in employment compared to almost three in four (74.8 per cent) of non-disabled people.

In the UK, the statistics on disability gaps in pay and the experience of work are also bleak. The Disability pay gaps in the UK report in 2018 found median pay was 12.2 per cent higher for non-disabled employees than for disabled employees (£12.11 an hour compared to £10.63 an hour). Disabled employees also report poorer experiences of work than non-disabled employees in terms of job discretion, work-life balance, fair treatment, job-related mental health and job satisfaction, as explained in a study of 2017.

The Government’s National Disability Strategy (NDS) launched in 2021 promised to do more to support disabled people to start and stay in work. But the advances have been minimal and not consequential enough with little progress when accounting for the increased prevalence of disability. There are too many consultations and reviews of existing policy in the NDS to assume that immediate and substantive changes are coming anytime soon. The government has already been slow to grasp the need to increase employer engagement with the disability employment agenda and recognise the central role employers can play in helping to address the workplace barriers.

Disability@Work was launched by Professor Nick Bacon at City. Set up in conjunction with colleagues at Cardiff Business School – Professors Victoria Wass and Professor Melanie Jones – and Warwick Business School – Professor Kim Hoque – the project aims to engage with policymakers, practitioners and interest groups who are interested in research findings relating to identifying the factors which influence disability barriers and supports that exist within the workplace.

Professor Nick Bacon

Their research highlights the factors that help explain disparities such as pay disadvantages, working experiences and the impact of the recession that affect disabled people disproportionately. There have been multiple success stories including helping shape Government policies relating to the employment of 7.9 million working age disabled people in the UK – including 3.7 million people who are not currently in employment.

The research has helped establish apprenticeships targets for disabled people, shaped Government targets for disability employment, affected the Disability Confident scheme and pushed for employer mandatory reporting, revised disability employment criteria in public sector procurement and influenced a disability-inclusive Government response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This long list of achievements followed on from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Disability report entitled Ahead of the Arc’. The findings were damning, warning the Government will not achieve its disability employment target of halving the disability employment gap of 32 percentage points until 2065 unless “decisive and innovative” interventions were made by Government to affect employers.

These included: extending the Race Disparity Audit and Gender Pay Gap Reporting to include employer reporting of disability employment towards progressive targets; using public sector procurement leverage potential by demanding that public sector contracts are only granted to firms that monitor disabled people’s employment and commit to improvements by adopting an inclusive approach to their recruitment and retention; and active promotion to help disabled people into self-employment and entrepreneurship through inclusive business networks, and access to development grants and startup loans.

Professor Bacon, a Professor of Human Resource Management at Bayes Business School, has held more than 80 meetings across Westminster and Whitehall with politicians and civil servants, with the Prime Minister personally acknowledging the importance of the report. The work has helped Government set accurate targets and reshape strategies, such as requiring employers awarded level three Disability Confident status to employ disabled people. Professor Bacon’s work has informed the Workforce Information Bill, introduced in the House of Lords, that would require employers to report the level of disability prevalence in their workforce.

An APPG endorsed paper by Professor Bacon and his colleagues’ offering suggestions on how to protect disabled people during the Covid-19 economic downturn also encouraged increased support for disabled people in employment.

The Disability Employment Charter was also introduced by Disability@Work to make clear the measures that, if adopted, would significantly improve the disability employment landscape. These measures include employment and pay gap.