WFH no 'easy fix' for disabled workers' disadvantage

06 December 2021

  • Working from home doesn't benefit disabled workers more than non-disabled
  • Increase in WFH post-pandemic will not reduce disability employment gap
  • Disabled workers less likely to have jobs that allow them to WFH
  • Professor Kim Hoque urges adoption of new Disability Employment Charter

A post-pandemic increase in working from home will not help reduce the disadvantage faced by disabled workers, a new study shows.

Instead, the UK disability employment gap, which currently stands at 29 percentage points, will not be addressed unless the UK Government introduces new measures such as those outlined in the recently-launched Disability Employment Charter.

Currently just over 50 per cent of working age disabled people in the UK are employed, compared to around 80 per cent of non-disabled people.

Working from home has become more widespread during COVID-19, with 35.9 per cent of UK employees working from home at some point during 2020, up 9.4 per cent from 2019. It is widely assumed that this increase has positive implications for disabled people’s employment prospects.

However, a new paper in the British Journal of Industrial Relations by experts from Warwick Business School and Bayes Business School analysed the national Workplace Employment Relations Survey, and found that disabled people are less likely to work from home than non-disabled people. This is the opposite of what would be expected if working from home helps address the disability disadvantage.

The difference is explained by disabled people being less likely to be in managerial or professional roles in which working from home is more widely available.

The findings also show that while working from home benefits both disabled and non-disabled people regarding job satisfaction, job-related mental health, and job control, it does not have a greater impact for disabled people. Disabled people working from home still rate these outcomes more poorly than non-disabled people who work from home.

Speaking on International Day of People with Disabilities (December 3), Professor Kim Hoque, of Warwick Business School, said: “A lot has been said about the benefits of working from home for disabled people, but our research suggests this would not help address disability-related disadvantage at work.

“Disabled people may not wish to work from home if it increases social isolation, and working from home on a hybrid basis might create difficulties for disabled people given that it requires employers to make adjustments in both the home and the workplace.”

Professor Nick Bacon, of Bayes Business School, said: “Working from home can have negative as well as positive implications for disabled people.

“For example, if it renders disabled people less visible, it might reduce the likelihood of employers addressing barriers to employment, and make it harder to challenge managers’ negative stereotypes regarding the types of jobs into which they are prepared to hire disabled people.”

Dr Lisa Cameron MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Disability, said: “This is important research that dispels the myth that an increase in working from home following the pandemic will help reduce the disability employment gap.

“The research underlines that, rather than relying on working from home to improve disabled people’s employment outcomes, more concerted Government action is needed that goes beyond the measures outlined in the recent National Disability Strategy.”

Professor Hoque recently worked with the Business Disability Forum, Disability Rights UK, the DFN Charitable Foundation, Leonard Cheshire, Scope, the Shaw Trust, and UNISON to launch a Disability Employment Charter outlining what this action might comprise.

The Charter offers a comprehensive set of proposals, including introducing mandatory disability employment and pay gap reporting and reforming the Government’s Disability Confident and Access to Work schemes. It has now been signed by 63 organisations, including most of the leading national disability charities, and corporates, such as FTSE 250 giant PageGroup.

Dr Lisa Cameron MP said: “The resounding support for the Disability Employment Charter from across a range of stakeholders shows the widespread appetite for the Government to incorporate the proposals the Charter outlines into the National Disability Strategy.

“Should it do so, the Prime Minister’s promise that the National Disability Strategy should be genuinely ambitious and transformative might eventually be fulfilled, and we may well see a step change in disabled people’s employment prospects.”

 

Kim Hoque is Professor of Human Resource Management and teaches Equality and Diversity on the Undergraduate programme and Managing Human Resources in Contemporary Organisations on the suite of MSc Business courses.

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