The government has ruled out introducing tough measures that would have forced employers to hire more disabled workers.
A report by the Social Market Foundation think-tank said improving the employment rate of disabled people to the UK average would boost the economy by £13bn.
If insufficient progress had been made by 2012, the report argued, further sanctions should be introduced. These include requiring firms to conduct equality audits and placing a duty to promote equality on the private sector.
But speaking last week, work and pensions secretary John Hutton dismissed the call for legal measures.
“We need to go further in getting employers to do more in supporting both the recruitment and retention of disabled people,” he said.
“However, we will not succeed in changing the attitudes of employers by placing additional burdens on them. It has to be about enabling them to see and benefit from the huge potential that disabled people have to offer.”
A fifth of the UK’s total working-age population are classed as disabled. However, official figures show that only 50% are in work, compared with 75% of the population as a whole.
A new Employ Ability initiative aims to highlight the benefits of employing disabled people. The scheme will be piloted in four cities before being rolled out nationally next year.