Will Work for Free? A Call for Action on Disability Pay Gap Day

Today marks "Disability Pay Gap Day" in the UK, a stark reminder of the ongoing struggle for financial equality. From today onwards, individuals with disabilities effectively earn less than their non-disabled peers for the remainder of the year. This symbolic day highlights a crucial issue: the need for equal pay for equal work, regardless of disability.

A recent TUC report (released today, 14th November 2023) reveals that workers with disabilities earn approximately 14.6% less than their non-disabled counterparts. In blistering condemnation, the TUC noted the gap is greater now than it was a decade ago. The situation is even more dire in Wales, where the gap widens to 21.6%. This inequality isn’t just a number; it’s about people’s lives and the value we place on all members of our workforce.

Consider for a moment the fairness of earning 20% more than a colleague solely because you do not use a wheelchair, have no hearing impairments, or are not autistic. Is this disparity justifiable in a society that claims to value justice, equality and inclusion?

Further, workers with disabilities in the UK face increased levels of job insecurity, and are more likely to be on zero hour contracts. While all employment is unbalanced in favor of the employer, this specific employment type puts complete control over workers’ hours and earning potential in the hands of the employer. From week to week, there's no security in what workers will earn, making it difficult to budget, plan, and functionally live. Disabled BME women are three times more likely as non-disabled white men to be on this type of employment contract. This is not dignified, nor sustainable.

Transitioning across the Atlantic, the scenario in the US mirrors these inequities. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, particularly Section 14(c), an outdated provision allows businesses to pay wages below the minimum to workers with disabilities based on their productivity. This has led to about 120,000 workers in the US receiving less than $3.50 per hour, some as low as four to ten cents per hour. These wages are insufficient to cover basic needs, let alone the additional costs associated with disabilities. Make no mistake, the FLSA has effectively codified wage discrimination against disabled workers into federal law, and far too many employers are taking advantage.

Personal Stories and Impact:

While I was in the Partners in Policymaking program, I got the opportunity to talk with a worker under a 14(c) certificate who shared his story with me. While he didn't want me to share his name, he made less than $3/hr. “I work just as hard as anyone else, but my paycheck sure doesn’t show it. I'm in my thirties and can't do things my friends can do, like own a car or afford an apartment. I can't have a life because I can't afford it. It's embarrassing.” Stories like John’s and others working in sheltered workshops and subminimum wage are far too common and illustrate the human impact behind these statistics.

Regardless of which side of the Atlantic you live, work or employ people on, it doesn't have to be this way. Given workers with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the world, it's a choice we should all consider making now. People with disabilities need the right to work, and the right to be paid an equitable wage, and stop the practice of subminimum wage.

Actionable Steps for Change: Employers can play a crucial role in bridging this gap. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Conduct regular pay audits to ensure fair compensation for all workers.
  • Advocate for policy changes that abolish discriminatory wage practices.
  • Foster inclusive hiring practices and provide reasonable accommodations and adjustments.

As employers and policymakers, we have the power to make a difference. Paying workers fairly and equitably is not just a legal obligation; it’s a moral one. This choice reflects our values and commitment to an inclusive society.

Let's use Disability Pay Gap Day to commit to change. It's not only about supporting the largest minority group in the world, but about building a workplace where everyone is valued equally.

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