New figures show average pay rates for disabled people fell seven times faster than those for non-disabled people during the five years of the coalition government.
The figures were produced for Being Disabled In Britain, a major review of disability inequality by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The report says that disabled people’s median* hourly earnings fell more than seven times faster (8.8 per cent) than for non-disabled employees (1.2 per cent) across Britain over the five-year course of the coalition government.
This meant that the gap between median hourly earnings for disabled and non-disabled employees widened, with earnings for disabled employees falling from £10.80 in 2010-11 to £9.85 in 2015-16, compared with a fall of £11.55 to £11.41 for non-disabled employees.
The decrease was particularly high for those with mental health conditions (11.9 per cent) and visual impairments (11.3 per cent).
The figures come from previously unpublished analysis for the report using data from the Annual Population Survey, but it is not yet clear why disabled people’s average pay rates fell so much faster than those of non-disabled employees.
In England, the figures were even more striking, with a fall of 9.5 per cent for disabled employees (from £10.88 to £9.85) against a drop of 1.3 per cent for non-disabled employees (from £11.63 to £11.48).
The decrease was higher for those with mental health conditions and visual impairments in England than across Britain as a whole, with a fall of 14.2 per cent for both.
In Wales, the median hourly earnings of disabled employees fell by a slightly lower amount, 9.2 per cent (£9.98 to £9.06), with no statistically significant change in the median hourly earnings of non-disabled employees.
In Scotland, there was no statistically significant change for either group between 2010-11 and 2015-16.
The TUC said it was concerned by the new figures, although it said the cause of the dramatic fall in disabled employees’ average hourly earnings was not yet clear.
One factor could be that an increase in disabled people entering the labour force for the first time lowered overall average pay, because new entrants are usually on lower pay, it said.
Another possible factor is an increase in the proportion of disabled workers in part-time work, which rose from 35 per cent in 2013 to 37 per cent in 2016, because part-time workers usually receive lower hourly rates of pay.
But the TUC did rule out the possibility that there were more disabled people in low status jobs, as it said the Labour Force Survey shows the share of disabled workers in traditionally higher-paid jobs had increased, while the proportion in elementary work – which includes jobs like cleaners, catering assistants and security guards – had fallen.
Huma Munshi, a senior TUC policy officer on equality and strategy, said: “The government regularly publishes data on the gender pay gap: it’s high time they did the same for disability.
“And while it’s good to see more disabled people in work, we need to ensure they can move up the career ladder, rather than be trapped in low pay.
“That means government, employers and unions working together to make equality a reality.”
An EHRC spokeswoman told DNS that the fall in earnings for disabled people could be due to a range of factors, including changes in “how many disabled people are employed, the jobs they hold and pay in those jobs”, as well as “how many people are identified as disabled in surveys, [and their] types of impairment and severity of disability”.
She said: “It is quite possible that increasing employment means that relatively more disabled people are entering the labour market in lower paid jobs, which would reduce average pay overall.
“Disabled people could also be experiencing greater pay restraint, for example, when working in the public sector.”
She said EHRC would shortly be publishing research into the factors that affect the disability, ethnicity and gender pay gaps.
Asked whether the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was concerned by the figures, and if ministers had any idea what had caused the growing gap, a DWP spokesman said its analysts were “still studying the data, which has only just been released” and so it was not yet able to comment.
*Median is an average found by putting results in order of size and then taking the middle reading