Under Occupied

The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 sets a duty on public
authorities to promote equality of opportunity between disabled and
non-disabled people. Public bodies will be required to look at the
ways in which they employ disabled people and provide services in
order to address patterns of systematic discrimination. There will
also be a specific duty, imposed on most public bodies by
regulations under the act, to publish a disability equality scheme
and draw up a three-year action plan with the involvement of
disabled people.

Bodies such as local authorities, health services and
educational institutions will have to identify obstacles to the
recruitment, retention and career development of disabled employees
and also show that they acted to remove the barriers.
The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has issued a draft code of
practice for consultation with some ideas on how positive action
can be achieved. (1)

Staff monitoring

The action plan is based on data about disabled applicants and
successful candidates, disabled staff in post and those leaving
employment. For example, monitoring the disabilities of job
applicants and successful candidates may highlight
under-representation of visually impaired people or people with
learning difficulties that can be addressed by targeted recruitment
drives, taking advice from disabled people and their organisations,
and by further training for staff involved in recruitment on
disability equality and reasonable adjustments.

The draft code suggests that public sector employers with more
than 150 staff compare disabled and non-disabled employees
receiving training, benefiting from or adversely affected by
appraisals, and involved in grievance and disciplinary procedures.
Any trends such as adverse appraisals of disabled staff should be
investigated and so tackle barriers to improved performance.
Another suggestion is regular questionnaires to all staff on
whether the workplace is becoming more “disability friendly”.

If the public sector duty works as intended, the inequalities
between disabled and non-disabled workers in the public sector
should decline.

Disabled people in work

Researchers at the University of York, commissioned by the DRC,
looked at inequalities between disabled and non-disabled public
sector workers by analysing data from the government’s quarterly
Labour Force Survey. (2)

The context is a year-on-year increase in the number of public
sector jobs in Britain from 1998 to 2004, reversing a long-term
The analysis found that in the six-year period an additional
214,000 disabled people were employed in the public sector compared
with an increase of 422,000 non-disabled employees. The rate of
growth was especially remarkable among disabled women.

This is encouraging but it is important to realise that there
are still only 842,000 disabled employees in the public sector
compared with 5.48 million who are not disabled.

During the period growth was concentrated in local government
and the health service. Just over half of public sector employees
work in local government and almost a quarter in the health
service. In both areas, employment of disabled men and women
increased by about a third over the six years to spring 2004. In
education there was an increase of nearly three-quarters for
disabled men and under half of that for women. Employment in local
authority social work has been falling overall but the drop in
numbers of disabled people employed was about half as much as that
for non-disabled people.

Long-term trends

A less bright picture emerges when we compare over time the
proportions of the disabled and non-disabled working age
populations employed in the public sector.

In spring 2004, 12 per cent of disabled people had public sector
jobs compared with 19 per cent of non-disabled people. A difference
is to be expected given that a larger proportion of disabled than
non-disabled people consider themselves out of the labour market.
But what is surprising is that the gap has not narrowed since 1998,
and this is true too when employment rates of men and women are
looked at separately.

A separate analysis by the DRC shows that the gap is much wider
when private sector and self-employment is looked at. (3)
Some particular areas where positive action is needed emerged when
we compared the ages and ethnicity of disabled and non-disabled
public sector workers. The gap widened progressively with age, and
disabled people aged 50 and over were half as likely to work in the
public sector as their non-disabled counterparts. This is despite
increasing numbers of older disabled people being employed in the
public sector. While disabled people have lower employment rates
than non-disabled people, disabled people from ethnic minorities
have the lowest public sector employment rates. Only 4 per cent of
ethnic minority disabled men of working age were public sector
employees in spring 2004.

Pay and career inequalities

Equality in employment is not just about recruiting equal
proportions of disabled and non-disabled people. Parity of
occupational status and pay are also indicators of equal

We found that disabled employees, and disabled men especially,
are less likely than non-disabled workers to occupy the more senior
managerial, professional and technical positions in the public
sector. When the earnings of disabled and non-disabled people in
similar occupational positions were compared we found the largest
gap among managers and senior officials: in these positions
disabled women and men alike typically earned no more than 90 per
cent of non-disabled employees’ earnings, equivalent to between
£40 and £60 less a week on average.

These findings indicate the challenges facing public bodies in
narrowing the gaps between disabled and non-disabled employees. The
government consultation document on the statutory duty identified
areas in which public employers might have to develop.(4) It spoke
of policies that recognise and include the diverse needs of
disabled people and further staff training to embed disability
equality within the entire organisation.

The final code of practice will include practical examples of
what can be done. It is important to remember that the new duty
applies also to the way in which services are provided, and that
removal of barriers to the employment of disabled staff will
inevitably help inclusion of service users.

Training and Learning

The author has provided questions about this article to guide
discussion in teams. These can be viewed at www.communitycare.co.uk/prtl
and individuals’ learning from the discussion can be registered on
a free, password-protected training log held on the site. This is a
service from Community Care for all GSCC-registered


Under a duty to promote equality of opportunity in the
Disability Discrimination Act 2005, public authorities will have to
act against systematic discrimination in employment of disabled
people. Surveys show that despite a rise in disabled employees in
the public sector, there has been no change in proportions of the
disabled and non-disabled populations employed.


  1. Disability Rights Commission, The Duty to Promote Disability
    Equality: Statutory Code of Practice England and Wales and The Duty
    to Promote Disability Equality: Statutory Code of Practice:
    Scotland, (drafts) 2005
  2. M Hirst, P Thornton, M Dearey, S Maynard Campbell, The
    Employment of Disabled People in the Public Sector: A Review of
    Data and Literature, Disability Rights Commission, 2004
  3. Disability Rights Commission, Disability Briefing, 2004,
    accessible online at www.drc.org.uk
  4. Department for Work and Pensions, Delivering Equality for
    Disabled People, Cm. 6255, the Stationery Office, 2004

Further Information

Employers Forum on Disability, Monitoring for Change: A
Practical Guide to Monitoring Disability in the Workplace,

Contact the Author

By e-mail at spru@york.ac.uk


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