Disabled workers in Britain face illegal discrimination and deteriorating employer attitudes, according to a shocking new report.
A study by the Public Interest Research Unit, on behalf of the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), found that over the last four years there has been a deterioration in the workplace experiences and long-term job prospects of disabled workers.
The study collected information from 137 disabled workers and 141 organisations in the private, public and voluntary sectors.
Some of the key findings from the study include:
Employer attitudes. Employer attitudes towards disabled workers appear to have become more negative during the last four years. One worker, for example, reported that there was – “Much less compassion for staff who are unwell …”
Zero hours contracts. The unpredictability of the working hours, and the higher levels of ill-treatment associated with zero hours contracts, had damaging effects on the health of disabled workers.
For example, a woman who worked in retail wrote – “I had a zero hours contract … I had to be on call any and every day for a shift … no adjustments made despite quoting the disability Act till I’m pink in the face. Zero hours are not good for ADHD or OCD, it turns you into a complete wreck. If its not the money, its the mental health and constant worry that does”.
Unlawful discrimination. Unlawful discrimination against disabled workers, including harassment and unlawful dismissal, appears to have been increasing.
Among examples of possible discrimination, one worker stated – “when my boss thought I had terminal cancer she stopped speaking to me”.
Benefit cheat narratives. Contributing to the increase in negative attitudes, government rhetoric about disability benefit cheats seems to have spilled over into the workplace.
A particular problem was that some line managers were said to have started regarding disabilities (especially mental health ones) as exaggerated or “faked”.
Redundancies and dismissals. Being disabled appears to have put some workers at particular risk of being made redundant.
In some cases, for example, it appears that employers would not make the adjustments (such as allowing time off for medical treatment) which would have enabled a worker selected for redundancy to be redeployed to an alternative post.
Reduction in proportion of disabled staff. In the majority of organisations, looked at for these purposes, the proportion of disabled workers in their workforce had gone down since 2012 (albeit to a small degree in most cases). The proportion had gone down in 15 organisations looked at and up in 7.
Cuts to legal protections. From almost the word go, the Coalition government has been cutting equality and employment law protections and weakening enforcement.
The report sets out 24 of the major cuts. These included, for example, doubling the normal qualification period for protection from unfair dismissal and abolishing employer liability for failure to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent third parties (such as customers) repeatedly harassing an employee.
Cuts damaging organisational performance. The study suggests that cuts to basic employment protections could be damaging individual and organisational performance.
This is in part because some legal cuts make it easier to fire workers, and so reduce an organisation’s incentive to develop employee skills and knowledge through training and development.
The impact of the cuts on disabled workers. It appeared that the cuts to legal protections were having adverse impacts on disabled workers.
One respondent, for example, indicated that, as a result of the Coalition weakening the Public Sector Equality Duty, – “disability equality training is now all but non-existent and recruitment of disabled people is now even lower than it was before 2010″.
Legal protections no longer carrying the same weight. There were indications that the government’s disparagement of legal protections, including framing them as “unnecessary red tape”, could be leading some employers to take their legal obligations less seriously.
For example, according to one respondent, – “DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) afforded some protection, but they became less leery of it after 2010.”
Becoming harder to enforce the rights which remain. Disabled workers seemed to feel that enforcing their rights was becoming more difficult or had become impossible.
The problem which appeared to be standing in the way of legal action in the most cases was the newly introduced tribunal fee. For example, referring to legal action, one respondent stated – “I haven’t taken any, and know I could never afford it now huge fees are involved”.
Impact of the public sector spending cuts. The cuts appear to have contributed to a reduced willingness to make adjustments in the public sector; and, in some cases, to disability equality being regarded as “a luxury” that it was now difficult to afford.
The study makes a number of recommendations. These include:
- It cannot be fair that only those with deep pockets can enforce their legal rights. Therefore, tribunal fees, introduced under the Coalition, should be scrapped.
- The qualification period for normal protection from unfair dismissal should as a first step be returned to the six months that it was in 1974. There seems to be no good reason why workers should have less protection than their parents and grand parents had.
- Our study indicates that combined discrimination is a problem, such as discriminating against someone for being a “disabled woman” or a “gay disabled worker”. Therefore, the Equality Act 2010 combined discrimination provision should now be brought into effect.
Responding to the report, Debbie Jolly of DPAC said: “While more research is needed, the initial findings here show a woeful regression of support for those disabled people able to seek work.
“The recent cap on Access to Work adds to this, exposing the coalition government rhetoric to the stark realities and discriminations disabled people face”.
Rupert Harwood, the report’s author, added: “The study suggests that disabled individuals have been the hardest hit in work as well as out of work”.
Source: Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).