Disabled employee at work

A new study has revealed the impact coronavirus has had on employment among disabled people, with 71 per cent reporting being adversely affected by loss of income, furlough, unemployment or other damaging consequences.

The survey of 1171 working-age disabled people and 502 employers was carried out by disability charity Leonard Cheshire. The organisation is now imploring the government to act now to avoid a jobs crisis.

According to the results, 71 per cent of disabled people who were employed in March had their employment impacted in some way by the pandemic. These included being furloughed, losing income, feeling at risk of redundancy, or losing their jobs.

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In particular, the research uncovered a ‘crisis of confidence’ among young disabled people who reported feeling pessimistic about their futures.

For many disabled 18- to 24-year olds, this impact was psychological, highlighted the charity. Over half (57 per cent) said they felt that the pandemic had affected their ability to work and 54 per cent said that it had hit their future earnings potential.

Worryingly, the feedback from employers seems to suggest that the concerns of young disabled people were not unfounded.

Two in five (42 per cent) of employers said that they were discouraged from hiring disabled job applicants due to concerns around supporting them properly during the pandemic. In addition, one in five (20 per cent) flatly admitted that they would be less likely to hire someone if they were disabled.

Sophia Kleanthous, an alumna of Leonard Cheshire’s Change 100 programme based in London, said: “In the past, I’ve been told I didn’t get a job I applied for because they were concerned my health would ‘get in the way’, that they needed someone who could be relied upon (referring to my disability) and that I’d be a burden to the company. This has to change.”

In Leonard Cheshire’s report, the charity pointed to a separate study conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies which indicates that disabled people have been disproportionately impacted in the workplace by coronavirus.

Analysis by the Institute found that 40 per cent of disabled employees were either furloughed or had their hours reduced, compared with only 30 per cent of non-disabled employees.

Meanwhile, Leonard Cheshire’s findings revealed the proportion of employers who say their organisation employs any disabled staff has fallen to 33 per cent in 2020, a 16-percentage point drop from 2018 (49 per cent). Only 21 per cent had hired any disabled people since 2018.

In response to the concerning findings, the charity has called on the government to address the issues immediately and take on board measures Leonard Cheshire proposed in its own ‘Plan For Jobs’ report, published last month.

“Our findings are stark,” said Gemma Hope, Head of Policy at Leonard Cheshire.

“But we should see them not as gloomy forecasts for policymakers but as motivators for immediate, wide-ranging action. We must stress that prompt, decisive action can stop the trends we have identified from becoming more serious.

Measures put forward in the ‘Plan For Jobs’ publication include preserving the furlough scheme for shielders, introducing a Job Guarantee for young people, and overhauling Universal Credit to protect disabled people from hardship.

In addition, it also proposes measures to make employers more inclusive, such as mandatory reporting on disability employment rates and pay.

“We cannot understate the urgency of the challenge,” continued Gemma.

“Our study suggests that inclusive practices at employers have been put at risk by fears relating to COVID-19 as the economic outlook darkens. We urge the government to take on the recommendations we make in the Plan For Jobs, and work with businesses to make our recovery from this downturn an inclusive one.”

Last month, the charity called for the introduction of ‘Purple Passports’ and a furlough extension to avert a jobs crisis for disabled people this winter.

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