Unpacking the Disability Pay Gap

Developing the Empowered Employers campaign has involved collating and understanding data from various sources. The research has been compiled on the campaign website to offer insights into the experiences disabled people, neurodivergent people and people with mental health conditions have with employment and employers. Data is ever-changing and so in this mini blogpost series, we look at the latest key facts and figures, unpack possible factors impacting change, and include links to resources and further reading.

The Disability Pay Gap

The Disability Pay Gap is another measure of inequality that has been at the heart of the Empowered Employers campaign. In the simplest terms, it measures the difference in pay received by disabled employees compared to non-disabled employees.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) last reported the disability pay gap in 2021 where it was found to be 13.8% (based on median hourly pay) (1). In monetary terms this means that, on average, for every £1 earned by a non-disabled employee, a disabled employee is earning 86.7p.

To put this another way, the median hourly pay for a non-disabled employee was £14.03, compared to £12.10 for a disabled employee.

The Disability Pay Penalty

The Disability Pay Gap, as with the Disability Employment Gap, is a symptom of the inequalities disabled people and people with mental health conditions experience in multiple areas of their lives. As found in our State of Gloucestershire survey of over 260 disabled people: “multiple barriers impact on where disabled people and people with mental health conditions can live, work, study, spend time, and in how they can enjoy their lives”. These barriers include a lack of transport, inaccessible spaces and lack of information about available opportunities.

The significance of the Disability Pay Gap is arguably even greater in the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. We know from the work of Scope that there is a cost ‘premium’ to being disabled (“The Disability Price Tag”). On average, disabled households (with at least one disabled adult or child) need an additional £975 per month to have the same standard of living as non-disabled households. At the current rate of inflation that will have risen to £1,122 per month in 2023 (2). At a time when wages are not going as far, to be paid at less than 90% of what non-disabled people earn means disabled people are likely to be even more acutely affected.

What is causing the disability pay gap?

The causes of the disability pay gap are well documented and speak to the inequalities disabled people experience in society as well as in the workplace (3):

What are others doing to reduce the Disability Pay Gap?

Whilst there seems to be an obvious answer here – paying disabled people more – in reality, as we see evidenced in discussions about other pay gaps such as the gender and ethnicity pay gaps, the solutions are about so much more. As illustrated in the barriers set out above, to close the gap we must open opportunities for disabled people to find work, create workplaces in which disabled people are valued and where there are clear career pathways promoting progression, and monitor the composition of our workforce.

The phrase “what gets measured, gets managed” has been shown to bear fruit in closing the gender pay gap. It is estimated in research by the London School of Economics that this gap has closed by almost a fifth since mandatory reporting was introduced and that this reporting is also creating behaviour change in employers and prospective employees (5).

Others propose that introducing mandatory reporting for the disability and ethnicity pay gaps could have a similar impact and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission endorsed such monitoring in their 2018 report into the subject (6).

Identifying and understanding a problem are the first steps to resolving it, but this measurement needs to be matched with a commitment to acting on the information.

Actions might include addressing how you recruit employees to be more inclusive of disabled people, addressing policies around reasonable adjustments, making use of support schemes such as Access to Work, and undertaking training to raise awareness of disabled people’s experiences and to better understand how to address the inequalities highlighted in this campaign.

The Empowered Employers campaign has prioritised working with employers, delivering training about inclusive employment, sharing guides and resources, and hearing directly from disabled people. These resources and much more to come are available on the Empowered Employers website: https://empoweredemployers.co.uk/resources/

Dan Jacques, Lead Researcher at Barnwood Trust



(1) Office for National Statistics (2022) Disability Pay Gaps in the UK: 2021 report available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/disability/articles/disabilitypaygapsintheuk/2021

(2) Scope (2023) Disability Price Tag 2023: The extra cost of disability report available at: https://www.scope.org.uk/campaigns/extra-costs/disability-price-tag-2023/#Disability-Price-Tag-2023-the-extra-cost-of-disability

(3) Office for National Statistics (2022) Disability and Employment Dataset – 2021 Edition data available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/disability/datasets/disabilityandemployment

Data queried: Tables 11 and 12

(4) Office for National Statistics (2022) Outcomes for Disabled People in the UK: 2021 report available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/disability/articles/outcomesfordisabledpeopleintheuk/latest

(5) London School of Economics (2021) Gender pay gap closes by one-fifth after reporting introduced article available at: https://www.lse.ac.uk/News/Latest-news-from-LSE/2021/c-March-21/Gender-pay-gap-closes-by-one-fifth-after-reporting-introduced

(6) Equalities and Human Rights Commission (2018) Measuring and Reporting on Disability and Ethnicity Pay Gaps report available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/measuring-and-reporting-on-ethnicity-and-disability-pay-gaps.pdf