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Nearly one in three disabled workers surveyed treated unfairly at work during the pandemic – new TUC polling
Nearly one in three (30 per cent) disabled workers say that they’ve been treated unfairly at work during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new poll published recently (Saturday) by the TUC.
The survey – carried out by YouGov for the TUC – reveals that many disabled people report that they experienced significant barriers in the workplace before the pandemic, and that Covid-19 has made things worse for them.
Structural discrimination in the labour market
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, disabled workers were hugely underrepresented and underpaid in the labour market. The employment gap between disabled and non-disabled workers was 28 per cent. And disabled workers are paid 20 per cent less than non-disabled peers.
Covid-19 risks undoing recent improvements in getting disabled people into work, and pushing disabled people back out of the labour market. Recent government figures show that redundancy rates are now 62 per cent higher for disabled workers
Unfair treatment by employers
Disabled workers told the TUC that their disability or shielding status meant they were treated unfairly, and worse than other colleagues during the pandemic. For example:
- One in 13 (eight per cent) said they were subjected to bullying and/or harassment, being ignored or excluded, singled out for criticism or being monitored excessively at work.
- One in eight (twelve per cent) said they were concerned their disability had affected their chances of a promotion in the future.
- One in eight (13 per cent) said they were concerned their disability had affected how their performance would be assessed by their manager.
The poll also uncovered:
- Shielding workers put at risk: More than one in five (21 per cent) shielding workers worked outside of their home most of the time – even though employers could use furlough to protect shielding workers who could not do their jobs from home.
- Hostile workplaces: One in eight (12 per cent) disabled workers told the TUC that they have not told their employer about their disability or health condition, with many of these workers fearing being treated unfairly (24%) or even losing their job (21%) if they were open about their disability or health condition.
- Employers failing disabled workers: only just over half (55 per cent) of those who asked their employers for reasonable adjustments during the pandemic told the TUC that they had been made in full. Almost a third (30 per cent) said they didn’t get all their reasonable adjustments, and one in six (16 per cent) said they had none implemented. The law says every employer must make reasonable adjustments for disabled members of staff so they can do their job. These may be things like providing the right type of phone for someone who uses a hearing aid, replacing a desk chair with one designed for an employee who has a back condition, or simply allowing home working.
- Unsafe workplaces: A quarter of disabled workers (25 per cent) said they felt unsafe at work during the pandemic due to the risk of catching/spreading the virus – and this rose to nearly one in three (30 per cent) among those who worked outside their homes throughout. Of those who face additional risk to Covid-19 due to their health condition/ disability, almost half (46 per cent) have not discussed these additional risks with their employer.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady recently said:
“Before the pandemic, disabled workers were already up against huge barriers getting into and staying in work. Covid-19 has made it even worse.
“Employers are failing disabled workers. Many disabled and shielding workers felt unsafe at work during the pandemic. And too many disabled workers told us their boss is breaking the law by not giving them the adjustments they need.
“We saw with the last financial crisis that disabled people are all too often first in line for redundancy. As we recover from the pandemic, we can’t afford to reverse the vital progress that disabled people have made – in the workplace and in wider society.
“Ministers must act. We need proper enforcement of disabled workers’ rights to reasonable adjustments and safety at work, and a duty on employers to report and close the pay gap between disabled and non-disabled workers.”
In the Queen’s Speech the government promised to release a National Strategy for Disabled People. This must include:
- Mandatory disability pay gap reporting for all employers with more than 50 employees. This should be accompanied by a duty on bosses to produce targeted action plans identifying the steps they will take to address any gaps identified.
- Enforcement of reasonable adjustments: The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should get specific funding to enforce disabled workers’ rights to reasonable adjustments.
- A stronger legal framework for adjustments: the EHRC must update their statutory code of practice to include more examples of reasonable adjustments, to help disabled workers get the adjustments they need quickly and effectively. It will assist courts and tribunals when interpreting the law – and it will also help lawyers, advisers, union reps and human resources departments apply the law and understand its technical detail.
Notes to Editors:
- The report is available at https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-06/Outline%20Report%20-%20Covid-19%20and%20Disabled%20Workers.pdf.
- YouGov conducted an online survey of 2,003 disabled workers or workers who have a health condition or impairment and who were in work at the start of the pandemic in February 2021. For more information please visit: https://yougov.co.uk/
- Reasonable adjustments: All employers have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 to proactively make reasonable adjustments to remove, reduce or prevent any disadvantages that disabled workers face. The law recognises that to secure equality for disabled people work may need to be structured differently, support given, and barriers removed. Many adjustments are low-cost or free.
- Redundancy rates: ONS figures published in February 2021 showed that redundancy rates are 62% higher for disabled workers: www.tuc.org.uk/news/tuc-disabled-workers-suffering-big-hit-jobs-and-pay…
- Unemployment gap and Pay Gap: TUC research in October 2020 found disabled workers earned 20% less than non-disabled workers (the disability pay gap). The analysis found that the pay gap for disabled workers has widened to £3,800 per year – an increase of £800 over the 2018 pay gap for someone working a 35-hour week. And the analysis found that the unemployment gap was 28 percentage points: www.tuc.org.uk/news/disabled-workers-earning-fifth-less-non-disabled-peers-tuc-analysis-reveals
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.
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