Zero Discrimination Day 2021: how far are we from true equality for disabled people?

Zero Discrimination Day 2021: how far are we from true equality for disabled people?

On Zero Discrimination Day 2021, we reflect on how the Covid crisis impacted on equality for people with disabilities. 

The Equality Act of 2010 states that you must not be discriminated against for having a disability, being perceived to have a disability, or being connected to someone with a disability; yet, 11 years on, the Covid crisis has thrown into stark relief the inequality that disabled people still experience in the workplace.

An August 2020 Citizens Advice report entitled ‘An Unequal Crisis’ found that one in four working disabled people were currently facing redundancy, this rose to 37% for people who said their disability had a large impact on their day to day life. In addition, they found that half of people who were required to shield were at risk of redundancy, and that two in five parents or carers were in danger of losing their jobs.

Image Source: Citizens Advice

While the risk of redundancy during Covid is increased for everyone, this study found that it was twice as likely for a disabled person.

Citizens Advice CEO, Dame Gillian Guy said that there are ‘worrying signs that disabled workers, people who shielded, parents and carers are being pushed to the front of the queue when it comes to redundancy’. This is in direct contradiction to the Equality Act, which should prevent employment decisions being made due to disability, and requires that reasonable adjustments be made for disabled employees - yet it seems that businesses are not considering respecting someone’s obligation to shield as a reasonable adjustment. Contact Centre Manager at Citizens Advice Manchester, Jamie McGlynn, highlighted a case where a lady with underlying health conditions told her employer she felt unsafe returning to work as another worker had Covid symptoms but wasn’t isolating. A week later she was given her redundancy notice.

Even when disabled employees manage to keep their jobs, those that need to isolate are being failed by statutory sick pay. The current rate of SSP is just £96 a week, as the TUC have noted, this is about one-fifth of people’s average weekly earnings, so if the average worker is off sick for a week, they lose around 80% of their earnings. At the best of times, this policy penalises people for being ill, right now it penalises those with health conditions for obeying government guidelines by staying home. People who have to isolate for two weeks will lose, on average, £800. A TUC/BritainThinks study shows that 43% of workers would be unable to pay their bills or would have to go into debt after only two weeks on SSP. 

Distressed older woman with calculator and laptop trying to organise budget

It’s clear that the situation is pretty dire, but what can be done to improve it?

For a start, the TUC states that SSP needs to be raised to the equivalent of a week’s living wage, £326, preventing people from having to make the agonising decision of whether to fall into debt or force themselves to work when ill - causing danger to themselves and their co-workers. Disability charity Leonard Cheshire also highlights SSP improvements as one of the things that can most assist disabled people in gaining employment equality. Additionally, they propose the funding of a “Purple Passport’ scheme, where disabled employees hold a passport-style document that outlines the adjustments and support they need at work, meaning they don’t need to re-apply for adjustments when they move roles. It seems that we also need to continue striving for better representation and understanding of the discrimination disabled people face as, despite the evidence to the contrary, nearly half of british people surveyed thought that those who lost their jobs during Covid did so as they were underperforming.

If you would like to help make employment fairer for disabled people, you can sign the TUC’s petition for a liveable sick wage here

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