S.Tark gender pay gaps were rightly not far from the spotlight. Although people with disabilities, on average, earn significantly less than their non-disabled counterparts, we tend to hear much less about it. That needs to change. The persistent inequalities that people with disabilities face are innumerable and we should invest as much time as possible to uncover each of them – and sophisticated solutions.
According to the TUC, the average hourly wage for disabled workers in 2017 was £ 9.90 compared to £ 11.40 for their non-disabled colleagues. This corresponds to a disability pay gap of £ 1.50 an hour – an average annual wage deficit of £ 2,730 a year according to TUC calculations. This is not a random amount of money.
Research by the Gender Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), published in 2017, found that between 1997 and 2014 the disability pay gap was 13% for men and 7% for women. In addition, “ethnic wage differentials tend to widen when disabilities are taken into account,” the EHRC reported. In addition, disabled people are less likely to have a job than non-disabled people – a serious problem in itself. The EHRC’s EHRC Equality and Human Rights Commission report on the disability pay gap found that the rate of employed disabled people was 35% for both men and women, while that of non-disabled workers was 63% for men and 57% for women amounted to. And other research has shown that only 6% of adults with learning disabilities in the UK are in paid work, but around 65% say they want a job.
Against the background that the type of work with disabled people tends to be poorly paid, low or part-time, a pattern of systemic problems becomes clear. And let’s not forget, of course, that this is compounded by the litany of cuts in benefits that make it difficult for disabled people to get to work.
The picture is similar in the United States. People with disabilities are less employed (18.7% in 2017 compared to 65.7% for non-disabled people) and earn much less than non-disabled employees. For women with a disability in employment, the median US wage in 2017 was only 48 cents in the dollar of the price of non-disabled men – while disabled people are generally more likely to live in poverty. Although Trump’s America appears to be steeped in discouraging statistics, something good came to the fore this month in terms of pay and disability. A bipartisan effort has been put in place – the Conversion to Competitive Employment Act – aimed at ending “minimum wages” for disabled people. Under Section 14 (c) of the 80-year-old Fair Labor Law, employers who receive a certificate from the Department of Labor can pay such low wages. The TCEA, launched by Democrats, Senator Bob Casey and Congressman Bobby Scott along with Republican representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is proposing to end this within six years. (Repeated efforts have been made at the federal level to remove the exemption, and minimum wages are already banned in some states.)
Research has shown that around 450,000 American disabled workers earn an average of just $ 2.15 an hour as a result of the exemption. In this regard, the federal minimum wage is $ 7.25, but the battle for $ 15 has resulted in many cities and states adopting higher minimum wages.
The people who earn such meager sums usually work in grocery, janitorial or gardening jobs, or do piecemeal assembly work in sheltered workshops. Rebecca Cokley, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, rightly says that the minimum wage is “a public policy fossil for the disabled” that “separates and includes workers in dead-end jobs.” This is underpinned by low expectations. Low wages can not only lead to financial difficulties but also send the message that disabled people are worth less than other workers. Fortunately, in the UK, calls for legislative changes to allow employers to pay people with learning difficulties below the minimum wage have been lifted in recent years. Cokley is right when she tells me that change in the US is “long overdue”.
Hopefully Congress will approve and this relic will go down in history along with the general disability pay gap.
• Mary O’Hara is an award-winning social affairs writer and author of Austerity Bites: A Journey to the Sharp End of the UK Cuts