There’s no sign of mandatory disability employment reporting yet, but organisations may benefit from collecting workforce disability data to better understand the needs of staff, writes Katharine Moxham.
There’s always much on the corporate plate to deal with, so one announcement and its significance for businesses might have gone unnoticed during the current political turmoil.
The government recently revealed it had met its manifesto commitment of increasing the number of disabled people in employment by one million, five years early. ONS figures show that, between Q1 2017 and Q1 2022 the number of disabled people in employment increased by 1.3 million. Overall, there were 4.8 million disabled people in employment in the UK in Q1 2022.
This is great news, but the fact remains that only 54% of people with disabilities are in employment, compared with 82% of people without disabilities.
The fact that the target was achieved five years early perhaps indicates that the bar was set too low. However, the achievement has still been hailed a massive success, and further closing the disability employment gap will remain high on the government’s agenda going forward.
Mandatory disability reporting
The outcome of the consultation on moving towards mandatory workforce disability reporting is overdue and expected once the government’s leadership contest has concluded.
Reporting on workforce disability data sits within a voluntary framework at the moment, but the consultation explored its potential to “increase transparency and support the cultural changes required to build a more inclusive society…[providing] an important baseline from which employers can assess the impact of their inclusive practices on the recruitment and retention of disabled people”.
Workers with disabilities
Although employers do generally recognise the value of supporting the health and wellbeing of their workforce, government expectations go beyond that – with more focus on supporting those with long-term health conditions and disabilities to enter and stay in work. So, businesses may find that they need to take some action on their own disability employment gap in the not too distant future.
Employers must make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 to support disabled job applicants and employees. This includes taking steps to mitigate any “provision, criterion or practice” which results in a person with a disability being put at substantial disadvantage compared with one without a disability in applying for, or doing, a job and progressing in work.
Many reasonable adjustments involve simple modifications at little or no cost, such as a change to working hours, offering a parking space, providing a mentor, ensuring that information is accessible, allowing extra time during tests or assessments and modifying the recruitment process so that it’s less intimidating, for example to allow work trials instead of formal interviews.
Employees themselves can also get financial support for the extra costs of working they may have because of their disability or long-term health condition through the Access to Work scheme. This might include, for example, adaptations to equipment to make using it easier, extra equipment and/or software, travel costs to and from work, and an interpreter or job coach, to name a few.
Benefits to businesses
Making sure that employees and candidates are aware of the financial and other support available can help a business extend its appeal as an employer and as a business partner, particularly in light of the ESG agenda.
It can also ensure that employees who develop a disability or long-term health condition are supported and retained, thus keeping their skills and knowledge within the business and saving the time and expense of recruiting a replacement. In a virtuous circle, this demonstrates to other staff that they are valued, and positions the business as caring and inclusive.
Collecting disability data can be beneficial, not only because what gets measured tends to get done, but also because this data enables an employer to understand how many staff identify as having a disability, how their experiences compare with other staff, how effective adjustments are and what barriers remain.
Reporting and publishing workforce disability data is valuable because it can send positive messages to the workforce, demonstrate inclusivity and create a working environment that is diverse and encourages more openness.”
Reporting and publishing workforce disability data is valuable because it can send positive messages to the workforce, demonstrate inclusivity and create a working environment that is diverse and encourages more openness. For example, reporting on the number and types of adjustments made could encourage those with non-visible or non-reported disabilities to come forward and identify as having a disability and go on to benefit from adjustments, which in turn is likely to result in increased loyalty, engagement and productivity.
The government’s Disability Confident scheme aims to help employers with their thinking on disability, and to help them improve how they attract, recruit and retain workers with disabilities and long-term health conditions. It provides guidance, toolkits and a three-level accreditation scheme so businesses can formally demonstrate their commitment to employing and supporting workers with disabilities.
Employers can also find other help available within their own existing kitbag – via their occupational health service, private medical insurance, or other benefits. As well as meeting the costs of an employer’s promise to provide long-term sick pay, a group income protection policy will include access to help from vocational rehabilitation experts, and access to support with making reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act. It might even be that their insurer will also help with the extra costs of keeping someone in work, such as providing or modifying equipment, on an ex gratia basis.
Embedding all of this takes thought, time and effort, but the flexibility so many employers deployed and the changes they made to their ways of working throughout the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates that there are real possibilities for more employers to adapt to the needs of workers with disabilities.