Angela Matthews: How can employers address the disability pay gap?

angela matthews bdf

Recent headlines about the disability pay gap have, rightly, caused alarm. A wide pay gap does not sync with employers’ increasing efforts to become disability inclusive. However, measuring the gap is not the panacea it may first appear.

Many factors influence a disability pay gap. For example, the most commonly sought-after adjustments for many disabled workers in the UK include reducing hours, or reducing the seniority or duties of their role for the purpose of managing treatment, limiting fatigue, or to restore a work-life-condition balance. Sometimes, despite all possible adjustments, it remains a fact that some people can only stay employed by working less, particularly if a disability or condition is acquired.

These elements affect a disability pay gap. And let us not forget that it is these adjustments that the government is encouraging employers to make as a way of reducing another gap: the disability employment gap.

The ways in which we are pushing employers to become more inclusive to disabled people are, therefore, potentially at odds with the idea of reducing the disability pay gap. Some employers that have a high percentage of engaged and supported disabled staff often have a relatively wide disability pay gap.

Therefore, it is not the percentage of a pay gap; it is the experience of disabled employees that matters. Monitoring pay is of little benefit if disabled staff are prevented from flexing their roles and working patterns in order to be well and productive in their jobs.

Data is insightful, and reducing any gap affecting inclusion is crucial, but data only gives a starting point. It is not what we should be measuring success by.

Ultimately, it is up to an employer to consider what it wants to be commended for: publishing a lower percentage, or having a brand-enhancing workforce that speaks credibly of how staff are supported to thrive.

Angela Matthews is head of policy and research at the Business Disability Forum