The disability employment gap: trends and barriers

Getting more disabled people into employment is one of the central aims of this Government. This piece reviews the trends in the employment rates of disabled people and the barriers, which they face when attempting to find work.


There is a significant employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people. In 2015, 48% of disabled people were in employment. This compares to a 79% employment rate for the rest of the population.

Yet, this gap between disabled people and the rest of the population has decreased by around 12 percentage points since 2000. Though it seems progress has been made, it is worth highlighting that the gap between disabled people and the rest of the population’s employment rate has remained largely static since 2006.

The current Government has a stated ambition to halve the gap in employment between disabled and non-disabled people. To do this, the Government have to understand and mitigate the barriers to employment that disabled people face.


There are a wide variety of barriers to employment for disabled people. These barriers will vary significantly for each individual. However, there are two broad types of barriers that emerge: physical and attitudinal.

Physical barriers

Physical barriers denote when an individual’s disability prevents them from applying for or undertaking a particular job. This could be because:

Attitudinal barriers

Attitudinal barriers relate to the attitudes of prospective or current employers, or the attitudes of disabled people themselves.

On prospective or current employers:

  • Employers may believe that disabled employees are not as productive as other employees. This may be because employers, wrongly, believe that disabled employees are more likely to have days-off or are more likely to not stay in the job;
  • Employers may also believe that the associated costs of hiring a disabled person, such as the adjustments required, are too high;
  • Employers may be unaware of the assistive technology that is available.

On disabled people themselves:

  • Lack the confidence when applying for jobs because they may have been rejected many times before
  • Lack confidence in their own abilities to meet the requirements of a job or lack the skills by which to ‘sell themselves’ on paper or at interviews
  • Fear that employers will not offer them the required support, or might discriminate against them

If the Government is to meet its ambition of halving the gap in employment between disabled and non-disabled people, then it must do more to reduce these two broad types of barriers.

James Dobson is a Researcher for Bright Blue.

Image: Anjan Chatterjee