Should employers be required to report on disability in their workforce?
On 16 December 2021, the Disability Unit of the Cabinet Office published a consultation on disability workforce reporting (the Consultation). The Consultation forms part of the National Disability Strategy and seeks views on mandatory and voluntary reporting of disability in the workforce for employers with more than 250 employees. With the aim of achieving more inclusive workforces, the Consultation invites responses from large employers and their representative organisations, trade unions, disabled people and organisations who engage or employ disabled people.
Currently, in the UK, an estimated 14.1 million people are disabled. This represents around 20% of the population. Those who are disabled are afforded additional legal protections and rights in respect of their employment under the Equality Act 2010 (the Act). The Act defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities”. Under the Act, it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against an employee or job candidate due to their disability. Employers are also required to make reasonable adjustments for those who are disabled in order to minimise any disadvantage faced by a disabled person in comparison to those who are not disabled.
There has been a long-standing imbalance in the employment rate of disabled and non-disabled individuals. Whilst, from 2013 to March 2020, the UK government reported the narrowing of the employment rate gap between disabled and non-disabled people, this changed in November 2021. The Department for Work and Pensions then reported an employment rate of 52.7% of disabled people compared to 81% of non-disabled people in the second quarter of 2021. Disabled people employed at the beginning of 2021 were also reported to be paid 16.5% less than non-disabled workers. More worryingly, a YouGov survey published in June 2021 found that 30% of disabled people in the UK felt that they had been treated unfairly at work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Consultation is intended to allow the UK government to understand “how and what information is currently collected by employers on disability in the workforce, the impact on business, and the behaviours [the current landscape] causes”. This is with a view to determining the most productive ways to increase transparency and reporting practices so as to promote positive cultural change in relation to workforce diversity and inclusion. Additionally, the Consultation seeks to explore whether mandatory disability workforce reporting for large employers (those employing more than 250 employees) should be implemented akin to mandatory gender pay gap reporting introduced in 2017. The Consultation includes proposals to build on the current Voluntary Reporting on Disability, Mental Health and Wellbeing framework which has been in place since November 2018.
Some campaign and trade union groups, such as the Trades Union Congress (TUC), have said that the UK government’s focus should be on strengthening employers’ duty to make reasonable adjustments and to make flexible working a day-one right for workers in order to provide meaningful change and long-term benefits for those who are disabled. The UK government reacted to campaign groups’ calls regarding flexible working last year when the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) launched their consultation on “Making Flexible Working the Default”. This closed on 1 December 2021 and the UK government’s response is eagerly awaited by many. They want to see, in particular, whether the government believe extending flexible working rights will benefit those who are disabled and narrow the disability gap will be eagerly awaited by many.
The Consultation closes on 25 March 2022 and the UK government’s response is due by 17 June 2022. We will keep you updated with any developments.