How a higher cost of living and lower wages impact on disabled people

Martin looks at the disability pay gap and why members who identify as disabled should vote in the current PCS ballot for industrial action over pay.

Gender pay inequalities may be making the headlines, but the UK’s “disability gap” – the poor rate of employment and retention in employment for people with disabilities – remains high. Diversity in the workplace has become a bigger discussion point than ever and now that UK companies with 250 employees or more are obligated to publish data on the gender pay gap, the discrepancies between male and female pay – and imbalance of men and women in senior roles – is set to dominate headlines for the foreseeable future.

Allegedly the unemployment rate is at its lowest since 1975. But not all workers are benefiting from high levels of employment – while 80.6% of people without disabilities are employed, this falls sharply to 49.2% of those with disabilities.

Though the employment rate for people with disabilities has improved very slightly year-on-year, with an additional 104,000 disabled people in work, there is still a lot of progress to be made. Towards the end of 2018 the government set a target of getting one million more disabled people into work by 2027.

The government’s paper “Improving Lives – the future of work, health and disability” sets out a clear mandate for employers, managers and supervisors to improve recruitment and retention of disabled workers, better manage employee ill-health, create healthy and inclusive workplaces where all can progress and provide opportunities for workers who need a more flexible approach.

Employers are obligated not only to prevent direct or indirect discrimination against disabled employees (both of which are illegal under the 2010 Equality Act) but also to take active steps to improve the working conditions and opportunities for those with disabilities.

The cost of being disabled in the UK is huge – but the government couldn’t care less. Leaders are more worried about corporate costs than they are about the personal costs imposed on vulnerable people. Because of hidden taxes and having more complex needs and requirements, if you have any form of impairment you’re going to pay extra for the right to participate and perhaps a lot extra.

Start with equipment for example: £600 for a wheelchair battery, £1,200 for a reclining chair, up to £5,000 for a wheelchair, up to £40,000 for a motorised one.

Bus companies ignore the fact that their drivers routinely flout court rulings saying disabled travellers should have a space. Train companies, and the London Underground, provide services that are inadequate at best and often simply unusable. As a result, disabled people spend an awful lot of money on taxis because there’s often no other option.

It’s not just transport. If you’re not able to move around a lot, you spend more on heating your home. The rules allow insurance companies to charge more, and sometimes a lot more, if you are disabled. A host of other goods and services are also more expensive such as prescription based items including wigs, surgical underwear and certain musculoskeletal supports.

All these things, and more besides, make the Disability Charge function as a societal tax if you’re on the receiving end. There is, of course, the Personal Independence Payment, which is supposed to help. It is characterised as a “benefit”. In reality it is a tax credit that only partially offsets the cost of the Charge.

In addition, many disabled people work flexible hours, including part time, to accommodate their conditions or medication. If you consider the earnings of disabled people are lower because of working patterns or the fact that they have not achieved the same rate of promotion/progression of non-disabled colleagues the disability pay gap widens considerably.

As we know the civil service brands itself as an employer of choice but appears to neglect the fact that many disabled civil servants are on or below the poverty line and depend on benefits to live. The current attack on civil service pay impacts even more on disabled colleagues. The fact there has been a revolving door of MPs bearing the title of “Minister for Disabled People” has done little to raise the standards of employment and pay for disabled government staff.

The current ballot of PCS members is important to us all but I would suggest it is of greater importance to disabled members. As such I would call on members who identify as disabled to get out there and vote and I would also call on every member to vote and support each other in solidarity. Let the government hear your feelings and let us help PCS to secure a financially sound future for all.

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