UK Disability History Month 2024

Disability Livelihood and Employment
14th November to 20th December 2024

Disability has been seen for many years as synonymous with non-employment or unemployment.

This of course is not true. Disabled people have always sought a means of surviving whether in begging, employment or on welfare or charity. Recently the number of disabled people in the UK workforce has increased

Since 2013, the earliest comparable year (see ‘What you need to know’), up to the start of the pandemic (March 2020) the general trend in disability employment was positive. There had been strong growth in the number and rate of disabled people in employment and a narrowing of the gap between the rate of disabled and non-disabled people in employment (the disability employment gap).

The pandemic initially reversed these trends with year-on-year changes showing a fall in the disability employment rate and a widening of the disability employment gap in 2020. The latest quarterly data for April to June 2023 shows that since the same quarter in 2019 the rate has increased by 1.0 percentage point 

There were 5.1 million disabled people in employment in the UK in Q2 2023. This is an increase of 320,000 on the year and an overall increase of 2.2 million since the same quarter in 2013

The disability employment rate was 53.6% in Q2 2023, compared to 82.5% for non-disabled people. For disabled people, there is an increase of 0.6 percentage points on the year and an overall increase of 10.0 percentage points since the same quarter in 2013.

The disability unemployment rate was 7.1% in Q2 2023, compared to 3.5% for non-disabled people. For disabled people, this is an increase of 0.4 percentage points from last year and an overall decrease of 6.4 percentage points since the same quarter in 2013.

In times of war when non disabled men have gone to fight more disabled workers were recruited in 1914–18 and 1939–45 this has led to disabled workers being part of the reserve army of labour.

In the last 30 years both legislation and trade unions have been more supportive of disabled workers.

Protection from discrimination in hiring, promotion, training and dismissal and a duty of reasonable adjustment have improved the work situation of disabled people.

In the past heavy industry like mining, steel-making and construction have had a high rate of accidents leading to more disabled workers. Depending on organised labour’s strength some have been able to accommodate these workers on light duties.

Health and safety legislation has also made work safer.

Modern high tech work can be carried out by a much wider range of employees as it does not require physical strength or stamina and modern patterns of flexible and home working allow a greater number of disabled people to work.

Stereotypes, barriers and prejudices still impact differentially on disabled people with different impairments. Those with Autism, Mental Health issues, Intellectual impairments and visual impairments still have much higher rates of non-employment.

In 2024 UKDHM will collect together a variety of resources to demonstrate the above and develop a range of educational resources to inform students on the factors influencing the employment of disabled people now and in the past  to illuminate a more equitable way forward.

Are you a member of a trade union? Download a leaflet here to inform others about disabled people’s struggle in the workplace.