New research shows why tens of thousands of disabled people every year are being “managed out” of their jobs by disablist employers.
The researchers concluded that the Equality Act was “failing to live up to its potential”, with many employers failing to create inclusive workplaces.
They heard that the time taken to implement a reasonable adjustment can range from 10 minutes to several years, with one disabled employee being placed on “gardening leave” for two years while their employer obtained a particular type of mouse for their computer.
The researchers carried out 38 in-depth interviews with disabled people, representatives of disabled people’s organisations, employers, unions, the government, the private sector and lawyers.
One of the interviewees said many disabled people were not receiving the reasonable adjustments they requested, adding: “Some of that is wilful, some of that is ignorant, and all of it is very bad employer practice.”
The Ableism and the Labour Market (PDF) report* was co-authored by Dr Sarabajaya Kumar (pictured), a public policy lecturer at University College London (UCL), who herself was managed out of a job by a previous employer due to its “shocking” failure to make the reasonable adjustments she had requested.
The report was co-authored by UCL’s Dr Colin Provost, funded by The Association of Disabled Professionals (ADP), and supported by UCL’s Policy Lab.
The aim of the research was to understand why reasonable adjustments are so often not being put into place.
Among the key barriers, it found, were the government’s Access to Work and Disability Confident disability employment schemes.
The researchers also found that disabled people’s experience of employment tribunals was “frequently traumatising”, while it was often “prohibitively expensive” to secure the legal support needed to take discrimination cases.
A previous report, Ahead of the Arc, commissioned by the all-party parliamentary group on disability, concluded in 2016 that up to 48,000 disabled people a year were being “managed out of the workplace” by their employers.
And a 2020 report (PDF) by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health and Social Care found that disabled people move out of work at about twice the rate of non-disabled people, while workless disabled people move into work at around a third of the rate of non-disabled people.
Some of the report’s strongest criticisms are reserved for DWP’s Access to Work (AtW) and Disability Confident schemes.
The authors call for significant improvements to AtW, with most of those interviewed raising concerns about the programme’s “efficiency and effectiveness”, which can lead to disabled people losing their jobs.
One interviewee describes the scheme as “a disgrace”, another says it is “useless”, while a third calls for reform, telling the researchers: “Yep, it’s dead. It doesn’t work.”
There are also “unanimous” concerns about Disability Confident, with interviewees describing it as “more of a marketing and public relations tool to make organisations look good”, and calling for it to be reformed so employers have to complete more tasks if they want to move up from level one of the scheme to levels two and three.
One interviewee describes visiting an employer to advise them on their disability strategy, and mentioning Disability Confident to a member of staff, who had not previously heard of the scheme and then left the room.
Less than an hour later, they saw the staff member again, and she revealed that her organisation had now achieved Disability Confident level one, 45 minutes after she learned about the scheme for the first time.
One of the report’s key recommendations is for employers to develop “inclusive, accessible and disability-positive cultures” so they create a “safe” environment where disabled employees can disclose their impairments and conversations about reasonable adjustments can take place.
It also calls on employers to centralise requests and budgets for reasonable adjustments, or even move towards an environment where they offer workplace adjustments to all employees, whether they are disabled or not.
And it recommends government funding for a new “One Stop Shop”, which would provide disabled workers and employers with advice, high-quality research, and best practice case studies.
The report also calls for funding for legal representation for disabled workers, and for disabled workers to be included on employment tribunal panels.
Jane Hunt, ADP’s chair, congratulated the authors for “succeeding in addressing this very important question, and with their very difficult, and sometimes very emotional, research”.
She said: “We hope that this research brings greater awareness and that it helps to continue a broader conversation about how to create more inclusive workplaces in which disabled people can perform and thrive, free of barriers.”
*Dr Kumar has discussed the report in a UCL podcast
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