What Works in Wales: Addressing the Disability Employment Gap

In 2021, there was a 31% employment gap for disabled people. Disability Wales friend, Ruth Nortey, is addressing this gap in Wales as part of her postgraduate research at Cardiff University.

In this blog post, she introduces us to her research which aims to address the gap in current research by highlighting cases of good practice that support disabled people in employment and explore the structural causes of disability unemployment.

Keep reading to find out more about the research and opportunities to get involved. 

Who am I? 

Hi, my name is Ruth Nortey. I’m a mum to one busy toddler, I have a vision impairment and I would describe myself as an equality and social justice activist / campaigner. 

I’m currently a second-year postgraduate researcher at Cardiff University exploring the disability employment gap in Wales. 

My research project is a partnership between Cardiff Business School and Disability Wales, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

What is the issue?

Historically, the employment rate for working aged people in Wales is lower than the overall rate for the UK. Working aged (16-64 years old) disabled people living in Wales are more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people. 

Despite many government programmes to get more disabled people into work, the disability employment gap – the difference in employment rate between disabled and non-disabled people of working age, has remained largely unchanged. 

My personal experience of being a disabled person in the workplace has given me an insight into the issues that disabled people are currently facing in employment. I have noticed that the experiences and opinions of disabled people are often missing from discussions on how to get more disabled people into work. 

Why is this a problem?

Disabled people in Wales experience one of the highest rate of poverty in the UK and we know that unemployment is a key factor. 

Working is not an option for all disabled people however we know that working can be important as it provides an independent income, it gives us a sense of purpose, it can improve our mental health and increase confidence and self-esteem.  

The skills of disabled people are being lost to the economy and it is important that policy-makers and employers act now to ensure that their policies and workplaces are inclusive to disabled people.  

In 2017, the Committee for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People criticised the low employment rate of disabled people in the UK and called upon the UK and devolved governments to develop effective employment policies that will reduce the inequalities disabled people face in employment. 

In Wales, the Welsh Government are designing a new disability policy which will include policies to address the disability employment gap, informed by lived experience of disabled people. 

What research is there on disability employment?

Despite the recent government focus on getting more disabled people into work, there has been little research into the issue of the disability employment gap, highlighting a gap in the current literature. 

Where research has been conducted it mainly uses statistics to explain the trends of unemployment amongst disabled people offering little insight into how this issue can be addressed. 

Often, the voices and lived experience of disabled people are missing from the research.  The limited availability of research in this area has meant there is currently little evidence exploring disabled people’s experience of employment. 

As an advocate of the Social Model of Disability, I believe that people living with impairments and / or health conditions, are disabled by  barriers within society. These barriers prevent disabled people from having the same opportunities within society as non-disabled people. 

In terms of employment, disabled people are more likely to experience physical barriers – inaccessible buildings, attitudinal barriers – employers’ misconceptions of disabled people’s access requirements and institutional barriers – inaccessible application processes. 

These barriers can prevent disabled people from applying for job roles and succeeding in the workplace. 

I am aware that many disabled people have positive experiences of employment with employers across the country creating inclusive workplaces. 

However, there is currently little research showcasing these examples of best practice. If these examples of inclusive practices were shared widely, other organisations could adopt these practices, making their workplaces more inclusive to current and future disabled employees. 

The Research Project

This research will address the gap in current research by highlighting cases of good practice that support disabled people in employment and explore the structural causes of disability unemployment.

The first stage of the research will involve a series of online focus groups in January and February 2023. I want to make sure that I speak to as many people with lived and / or professional experience of disability employment. Therefore, I would like to speak to people aged 18 years and over from the following groups:

  • Disabled people
  • Disability employment advisors / job coaches
  • Third sector organisations offering employment support
  • Employers with disabled staff members
  • Welsh Government officials engaged in disability employment work

These focus groups will be an opportunity for you to give me feedback on my research plans and for me to understand what your priorities are in relation to disability employment in Wales. 

If you are interested in taking part in a focus group, have any questions or for further information you can contact me, Ruth Nortey at norteyr@cardiff.ac.uk

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