How much do employers know about supporting employees with disabilities?

In 2017 the government declared their ambition to get 1 million more disabled people into work over the next ten years. Two years later however there has only been a 5% increase, meaning that if the pattern continues as it has so far, there will only be a total of 5,800 disabled people in work by 2027. Since this data was released by ONS the question has become what is stalling this growth?

Research was conducted by law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp in which they submitted a questionnaire about the protections granted by the Equality Act of 2010 to 500 SME owners. The results showed that the answer to this question may be simple, The vast majority of SME owners don’t know how to support disabled employees. The study showed that business owners were now aware of the rights of disabled employees as protected by the 2010 Equality Act, or of their responsibilities towards them. Given that the population is ageing and illness, disability and sickness will be more common at work, it is becoming more important for employers to be disability aware.

The survey by Bolton Burdon Kemp showed that when provided with a tick list including three correct answers and two false, only 5 % of SMEs were able to correctly identify all three protections provided by the 2010 Equality Act. These three fundamental pillars of the act include protection against discrimination in education, work, and services provided. It is these protections that provide the basis for reasonable adjustments at work and place the responsibility of providing these and additional support on the shoulders’ of the employers.

Just 22% of those who took part in the survey were able to partially identify the rights covered by the Equality Act, 41% misidentified, 9% could identify none at all, and 23% answered ‘do not know’. The results of the study show a huge lack of understanding and knowledge in business owners about the rights of their disabled employees. But who should be providing this education to SMEs? 93% believe that it should be the government, and that it is their responsibility to provide them with more information so that they can be held accountable to their own responsibilities. Unfortunately in March of this year the NAO showed that progress towards the government’s ‘one million disabled people in work’ target is inadequate at present.

What happens at interview however is more promising. Most disabled people express concern about disclosing information about their disability to their employers, and what affect this will have on their chances of both getting the job and of keeping it. The majority of SMEs however state that they would only ask about a person’s disability if it was relevant to the role, and half stated that they would not ask at all, suggesting equal opportunity regardless of whether or not the person had a disability.