One in five of people in Great Britain have a limiting, long-term health problem or impairment and yet disabled people face consistently worse employment prospects than non-disabled people.

There is a huge disability employment gap in the UK – while the employment rate for non-disabled people is 80.3%, it is only 47.2% for disabled people.

The Government has set a target of halving the disability employment gap by 2020 – which means an additional one million people in employment.

Employment specialists Reed in Partnership, supported by the charity Disability Rights UK, has carried out new research into 300 businesses across the country to find out more about their employer attitudes to taking on disabled people.

The findings lay bare some of the very real challenges people with disabilities face entering and progressing in employment:

– Almost 1 in 10 businesses told us that they are not able to support an employee with a disability or health condition.

– Almost a fifth of businesses consider that the cost of modifying workplace makes it expensive to employ disabled people.

– Almost a third of businesses are worried that disabled people will claim discrimination if the job does not work out.

– Around a quarter of businesses find it challenging to discuss the management of disabilities with employees.

What needs to be done to support disabled people into work?

Only around one in ten respondents in our survey said that their business is already doing enough in this area, which shows a recognition that the current level of engagement by employers with this issue is not sufficient.

There was a clear indication from employers that businesses are seeking more information from disabled people themselves about the support they need in the workplace. However, we know from previous research that many disabled people are concerned about discrimination from employers. When disability charity Scope surveyed disabled people about problems they faced around employment, 76% identified employer attitudes.

Therefore, employers need to be more pro-active in showing they welcome applications from disabled people so that prospective employees can be confident they will not face discrimination. For instance, senior leadership should encourage openness about health conditions and impairments, and should speak about the value everyone brings through their range of experience.

Our survey indicates that businesses feel constrained by a lack of information about the adaptations they may need to make, and the support available to them to do so. The Government’s Access to Work scheme will cover the cost of many of these alterations, but many businesses are in the dark about it. We therefore recommend an expansion of Access to Work programme and, crucially, much better publicity of the scheme among both disabled people and employers.

We also recommend introducing a ‘one-stop-shop’ to offer help and workplace solutions for people with disabilities and their employers. For example, the Australian Government operate a service called JobAccess. It includes a comprehensive website and a free telephone information and advice service where employees can access confidential, expert advice on the employment of people with disability.

Flexible working is one of the most commonly requested forms of reasonable adjustment made by disabled people, and can be relatively easy and inexpensive to implement, so we recommend that employers should embed flexible working practices.

Everyone deserves to be participate equally. With one in five people across the country experiencing an impairment or long term health condition, tackling the persistent problems disabled people face entering employment must be a national priority. With their commitment to halving the disability employment gap, the Government has made a bold pledge – now they need to deliver.

Link to report with full findings and analysis:

Martin Fallon, Managing Director, Reed in Partnership