New research by the Learning and Work Institute and The Black Stork Charity has found that the disability employment gap widened between 2019 and 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

The report found that a growing number of disabled people have been left out of work and struggling to make ends meet since Covid-19 hit last year.

During 2020, disabled people were one and a half times more likely to move out of unemployment compared to non-disabled people. And, by the end of 2020, disabled people were only a third as likely to be back in work compared to non-disabled people.

Disabled people were also more likely to be temporarily away from paid work than their non-disabled counterparts, in part due to the furlough scheme. They were also nearly twice as likely to be long-term unemployed compared to non-disabled people by the end of 2020.

This highlights that although employment, pay and finances were negatively impacted for many people during the pandemic, disabled people were disproportionately affected compared to other groups.

The government are being urged to act

The Learning and Work Institute and The Black Stork Charity are therefore urging the government to increase support for disabled people and improve employment opportunities by helping disabled people to find work, improving working conditions (including access to flexible working) and providing support for disabled people to stay in employment.

The organisations also call for Kickstart to be expanded to disabled people over the age of 25 and for the government to ensure there is high-quality support through Jobcentre Plus, including from new Disability Employment Advisors announced recently by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Previous support programmes have failed to provide the necessary support from disabled people. Because of this, the report asks the government to ensure the new Restart programme (which will be rolled out this summer) delivers better outcomes.

Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Black Stork Charity, said: “If the Government is serious about its commitment to ensuring one million more disabled people in work by 2027 and addressing the health inequalities laid bare by the pandemic it will need to actively enhance the routes back to work for people with acquired disabilities, the quality of support given to disabled job seekers and promote accessible employment practices that enable an inclusive workforce.  If we are to build back better and level up, disability employment is a prime opportunity to change the face of equality in the UK.”

What about people with learning disabilities?

There is not much data on how the employment of those with learning disabilities has been affected by the pandemic. However, as people with learning disabilities were at greater risk of poor outcomes from Covid-19, we know many people with learning disabilities will have been forced to leave their jobs.

Now, a new inclusive employment services in Essex is supporting adults with learning disabilities and autism to gain paid employment which matches their skills and interests.

So far, within just 12 months and in spite of the pandemic, 60 adults with learning disabilities and autism have secured employment with support from Essex Cares Ltd (ECL).

The team at ECL work closely with candidates and their families by giving them career guidance, vocational skills development, CV writing, and ongoing support and mentoring in the workplace. They also provide practical support to employers to encourage them to make the most of the talents autistic and learning disabled people can bring to the workplace.

Joe Coogan, Director of Operations from ECL, said: “Our specialist Inclusive Employment team are helping adults with learning disabilities who have career ambitions to fulfil their potential and improve their lives and we’re really pleased about the positive achievements for everyone involved, which in the context of the pandemic is outstanding.

“The service is also enabling more employers to realise the benefits of becoming an Inclusive Employer. These are wide ranging, from opening up an untapped talent pool of candidates and securing high quality, loyal and hardworking staff, to improving employee morale and commitment by demonstrating you are a recognised Disability Confident Employer. In the past, sometimes it was assumed that adults with a learning disability would attend day services and didn’t want or couldn’t get jobs. Working with Essex County Council we are challenging this assumption and believe that we can help anyone get a job who wants one.”

“I would definitely recommend inclusive employment to other employers”

Richard Trower is an employer who worked closely with ECL. He has now employed 30-year-old Ellen Schultz, who has Down’s Syndrome, in his café in Chelmsford.

Ellen completed her vocational training at ECL Greenacres (a day service) and gained experienced volunteering in a pop-up café. She was then supported by ECL Inclusive Employment Consultant Caroline Giess, who helped her prepare for the Zoom interview.

Ellen was then offered the job and now works one afternoon a week. When asked about her new job, she said: “I’m very happy” adding “I’m looking forward to earning some money to buy a Star Wars bobblehead”.

Ellen’s mum, Mary, said Ellen was really enjoying her job and she comes home happy and smiling. She said: “Both ECL and Richard at Geek Retreat have been incredibly supportive.”

Richard says he would “definitely recommend inclusive employment to other employers”. He added: “When ECL contacted me to enquire whether I would consider employing someone with a learning disability I was open to the idea as it fitted in well with our inclusive ethos. I had over 200 applications but I could see that Ellen had the relevant skills. She gave some exceptionally good answers in the interview, better than many of the other candidates. It was apparent that she was well prepared, and most importantly, she showed she really wanted the job. “

To find out more about ECL’s Inclusive Employment Service, click here.