Proportion of disabled employees in the workplace rising

The expanding body of disability legislation and the desire to promote equality at work are, together, having a positive impact on UK employers’ policies, according to a survey of disability at work released by IRS Employment Review, published by LexisNexis Butterworths.

More than nine in 10 (95.3%) of organisations surveyed now have a formal policy on disability, typically as part of a wider equality or diversity policy.

Employers are increasingly allowing absence for rehabilitation and treatment (cited by eight in 10 employers), acquiring or modifying equipment, altering individual working hours, assigning a person to other work and providing flexible working arrangements.

Over the past five years, the proportion of disabled people in the workplace has either increased or remained constant in most organisations – although this was largely attributable to an increase in disability reporting. In more than eight in 10 organisations able to provide an answer, the change was thought to be at least partly attributable to an increase in the number of people defined as having a disability. And nearly two-thirds mentioned that, in part, it was due to a rise in the reporting of disabilities.

The IRS study of disability at the workplace was conducted through a postal questionnaire during summer 2005. It examines the impact of legislation on policy, policy content, encouraging disabled job applicants, harassment, monitoring, workforce training, use of government schemes, reviewing workplace arrangements, and the new public sector duty on disability.

Key Findings:

  • Most employers regard promoting equal opportunities and diversity as more influential on their policies than legislation on disability at work
  • Three-quarters of the employers surveyed want to improve customer service through a greater understanding of disabled people as customers and colleagues. More than two-thirds mentioned social responsibility but just one organisation cited trade union pressure
  • Almost two-thirds of employers had provided staff training or guidance on disability
  • More than half the surveyed organisations had used the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme, which helps to meet the cost of aids and equipment, adaptation to premises and personal assistance. However, several identified weaknesses in the current scheme: for example, that it was inconsistent from area to area and that it was too slow
  • Taking the full range of government schemes as a whole, all employers using one or more of the schemes reported some degree of success. Just under a third of the organisations surveyed said that the need for such schemes had not arisen and a minority were unaware of the schemes
  • Most organisations (80%) had carried out an audit or survey of workplace accessibility and almost half of employment practice. The top five review areas are: physical access to buildings, job advertisements, job descriptions, health and safety and occupational health procedures
  • More than half of the public sector organisations surveyed had already taken steps towards meeting their forthcoming duty to promote equality of opportunity.

IRS Employment Review managing editor, Mark Crail commented:

“Our survey shows that the high level of employer activity in recent years is having a positive impact on the working lives of people with disabilities. Almost half the organisations we surveyed reported a rise in the proportion of disabled employees in the workplace.

“However, this shouldn’t be seen as either entirely altruistic or as simply a response to legislation. A significant number of employers attributed the rising levels either to the increased number of people now defined as having a disability or to a rise in disability reporting.”