My name is Georgia Lambert and I am one of the 28 million adults in the UK living with chronic pain – a silent epidemic during a global pandemic. Nationally recognised as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, my chronic pain makes me a disabled job-seeker, a potential ticked box in a company’s diversity quota, and an individual who wants and to work.
This year hasn’t been a stranger to exposing society’s core flaws and as the lock-down restrictions ease in Britain it has become apparent to me that this has not been an equal-opportunity pandemic. Not only has the virus killed hundreds of thousands of people globally, but it is also deepening the consequences of existing structural inequality, burdening the losers of today’s polarized economies and job markets.
Society’s response to coronavirus continues to disproportionately affect vulnerable groups, like disabled people, who have borne the brunt of socioeconomic marginalization long before the pandemic began. As the question “but did they have underlying health conditions?” continues to be asked in response to coronavirus-related deaths, it feels increasingly like a euphemism for those that society has given up on.
Research carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the pandemic has unfairly impacted disabled people. Further anecdotal stories confirm that disabled people are more susceptible to the virus and have been significantly impacted by social distancing and shielding measures. Within the disabled population, many people have been denied access to healthcare and aid support, which has had a detrimental effect on their ability to live independently and to participate in the labour market.
Inequality towards disabled people has been a core issue for many years and outdated attitudes regarding the abilities of disabled people have put the UK into an employment crisis. There are one million disabled people in the UK who want to work, have the necessary qualifications and experience for the role, but who aren’t given the opportunity to succeed. A recent YouGov survey which focused on HR decision-makers revealed that more than one in ten (11%) questioned, believed that disabled people should accept lower-paid positions and a quarter (26%) of businesses questioned claimed that they had never interviewed a disabled candidate.
Disabled and vulnerable workers continue to face huge employment challenges as they compete with the ‘able-bodied’ population. Occupational segregation, non-unionized sectors and sub-par wages have caused employment rates among the disabled to decline. And for those wishing to enter the workplace, ‘ableist’ attitudes in recruitment are swiftly halting the progression of many applications.
Despite anti-discrimination legislation, workplaces remain plagued with inaccessible jobs, job descriptions and working environments. The same survey by YouGov uncovered that nearly half of the businesses interviewed (47%), said that creating an inclusive workplace for disabled people hasn’t ever been a priority, further admitting that the high unemployment rates are due to the employers’ lack of resources and skills when knowing how to integrate disabled talent.
When talking about this issue, Mark Hodgkinson, the Chief Executive at disability and equality charity Scope, expressed “There is a huge amount of disabled talent and potential, for companies to tap into. It’s absolutely scandalous that a quarter of HR decision-makers claim that they have never had a disabled candidate for a job interview, and leadership boards often don’t even discuss disability”.
In order to tackle these entrenched, structural inequalities and to accelerate social change for disabled applicants , Scope UK and Virgin Media are urging UK companies to sign their #WorkWithMe pledge. Backed by global businesses such as Phillips and JCB, this initiative is designed to improve workplace practices and to support the millions of disabled people, to gain the skills and confidence to become competitive applicants.
The pledge is a free, five-step plan designed to help businesses take accountability and receive practical advice on how to improve existing workplace policies, practices and culture, to create a more inclusive and ethical working environment.
As we gingerly enter the post-COVID era or the so-called “new normal”, we can only hope that businesses start to realise the potential in disabled applicants and existing employees, in order to work towards making everyday equality in the workplace a reality for disabled people.
Sign up to the pledge at www.workwithme.support.