Recession Report #9: the recession and disabled people
Today we publish our latest Recession Report, which focuses on how disabled people have fared over the last ten years and the story so far of how the recession has affected them. In the report we look at employment and unemployment rates, and the ‘disability gaps’ – the gaps between the employment and unemployment rates for disabled and non-disabled people.
The evidence shows that disabled people are among the most disadvantaged groups in our society, with a massive employment rate gap of 27.1 points in 2007. Incredibly, the picture was even worse in the mid-1990s, and the relative position of disabled people has been gradually improving over most of the lifetime of the current government.
Research into what happened over the last 30 years seems to show that the recessions of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s seriously harmed the relative position of disabled people. So, the £64,000 question is: has the same thing happened again in this recession?
Well, the good news is that the answer seem to be “not so far”. It is very early in the recession, and things could change, but an authoritative study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Department for Work and Pensions has found that, between the first quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 the employment and unemployment gaps both narrowed:
- The disability employment rate gap narrowed from 26.7 points to 25.8
- The disability unemployment rate gap narrowed from 3.1 points to 2.2.
Of course, the employment rate is still much lower for disabled people than for the non-disabled and the unemployment rate is still significantly higher. And the gaps may have declined, but the number of disabled people who are unemployed has still risen and the number who are in employment has still fallen.
Nonetheless, at a time when we are looking for light in the darkness, this is a genuine piece of good news.
Whether this progress is maintained depends to a large extent on policy decisions. Cuts in public sector services and employment would be a disaster. To a large extent, disabled people’s employment prospects depend on the quality of such services as health, education and transport – letting these deteriorate would undermine the employment prospects of whole generations of disabled people.
Possibly even worse would be the direct impact on disabled people’s job prospects. Disabled people account for a higher proportion of the employees in public administration, health and education than any other industry.
Disabled people would be amongst the most significant losers from any policy of public sector cuts.