The disability employment gap

25 January 2017
What was claimed

The government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap won’t be met for 50 years.

Our verdict

The gap isn’t currently falling fast enough to meet the government’s pledge, but the idea it’s 50 years away is more rhetorical than factual.

“Research shows that [the government's pledge to halve the disability employment gap] will not be met for 50 years.”

Dr Lisa Cameron MP, 25 January 2017

This is correct if you assume a trend over a few years will continue for the next half century, without being affected by any change in policy or the economy. In reality the research being referred to has very little to go off.

The message behind the claim is correct though: the government isn’t on course to meet its pledge.

The ‘disability employment gap’ refers to the difference between the employment rate of non-disabled people and the same for disabled people. There are different definitions of disability, so not everyone produces the same numbers for how big the gap is.

In 2015 the Conservatives said “we will aim to halve the disability employment gap”. This was taken to mean by the end of the parliament, but the government has clarified that there’s no specific time period on the commitment, although it has talked of a “10-year strategy”.

At the moment, 80.5% of non-disabled people aged 16-64 are in work. The same is true for just 48.3% of disabled people. That’s using the government’s preferred definition. It covers people who report physical or mental health conditions lasting or expected to last at least a year, which reduce their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

So that’s a gap of about 32 percentage points, which is the measure the government uses.

A few years ago it was more like 34 points, so the gap hasn’t narrowed a great deal. If you take the rate it’s been falling by and assume the rate stays the same, it will be 50 years before the gap is halved (to about 16 points), according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Disability.

We haven’t been able to replicate their exact figures, but over the last three years the gap has fallen by about one point, so it would take about 50 years to get it down to 16 points.

In any case, all we’re really learning here is that the government is off course. There’s only a few years’ worth of trend to go off and in reality anything might happen to widen or narrow the gap. The report itself warns the 50 years is only true provided “all else remains equal”.

Mrs May’s response was that the gap can widen when more non-disabled people get into workas opposed to it being down to fewer disabled people having jobs. She has a point: the employment rate for disabled people has improved by almost five percentage points since the same period in 2013. But as non-disabled people are also more likely to be in work, the employment gap hasn’t closed by nearly as much.

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