Disabled people in the UK have been plunged into crisis by the coronavirus pandemic, a study as found, with some 71% being impacted by loss of income, furlough, unemployment or other damaging effects.
Disability charity Leonard Cheshire called on the government to act urgently to avoid a job crisis as it uncovered a “crisis of confidence” among young disabled people who were pessimistic about their future.
The majority (57%) of 18 to 24-year olds said they felt COVID-19 had affected their ability to work, and 54% said that it had hit their future earnings potential.
The study, which surveyed 1171 working age disabled people and 502 employers, revealed that 42% of employers were discouraged from hiring disabled job applicants amid concerns around supporting them properly during the pandemic
Meanwhile, one in five employers admitted they would be less likely to hire someone if they were disabled, highlighting the lingering discrimination and declining representation of disabled people in the workplace.
Separate figures from an analysis from Spring by the Institute for Employment Studies found that 40% of disabled employees were either furloughed or had their hours reduced, compared with only 30% of non-disabled employees.
Two in five (42%) of employers said that a barrier to hiring disabled people in the pandemic is being able to support them properly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a fifth (20%) admitted they were less likely to hire a disabled person overall.
Meanwhile, the proportion of employers who say their organisation employs any disabled staff has fallen to 33% in 2020, a 16 percentage point drop from 2018 (49%). Only 21% had hired any disabled people since 2018.
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.”
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The charity also pointed to measures in its own ‘Plan For Jobs’, published earlier this month, which outlines ways to ensure the economic recovery from Covid-19 is disability inclusive. Measures included preserving the furlough scheme for shielders, introducing a Job Guarantee for young people, and overhauling Universal Credit to protect disabled people from hardship.
Additionally, it proposed measures to make employers more inclusive, such as mandatory reporting on disability employment rates and pay.
Gemma Hope, Head of Policy at Leonard Cheshire, said: “Our findings are stark. 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.
“Still, we cannot understate the urgency of the challenge. 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.”
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