Money can say a lot about underlying beliefs. It’s much more than a medium of exchange: it shows you what a society prioritises, what it respects and who it values. The monetary value ascribed to something or someone often speaks volumes of society’s views. So, what then of the disability pay gap?
The news towards the end of 2019 was, of course, interesting for everyone in Britain. But, in terms of what The Ability People passionately care about, it was appalling. Yet, in many ways it was unsurprising. Indeed, we were given a great deal of food for thought as we headed into the Christmas season. Especially with regards to the disability pay gap.
In December, the ONS released their figures on the disability pay gap which revealed disabled people face a pay gap of 12.2%, on average, rising as high as 15.3% in London. This news was swiftly followed by outrage at a local hustings, where one parliamentary candidate stated that ‘people with learning difficulties should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage’ and that ‘some people with learning difficulties, they don’t understand about money’. Both these examples starkly highlight through money, society’s hard-to-shake belief that disabled people are on some level worthless – so we are worth less.
These figures and quotes are easy to point out as disgraceful but they don’t exist in isolation. They’re merely examples of the destructive narrative, pervading every area of society, which says that disabled people’s skills and talent can’t compare to those of non-disabled people. This belief is also illustrated by the reductive representation of disabled people in the media and the massive disability employment gap which still exists, currently standing at 28.6%in the UK. Everywhere, the same message is repeated: that disabled people’s difference is a weakness and our work is of lower value.
It is now 2020 and we cannot allow this message to carry into a new decade. But, it is important to understand, challenging these beliefs isn’t about taking pity on disabled people or doing us a favour. It’s in everyone’s best interests.
Organisations and employers across the country need to realise that truly understanding the value of disabled people and our work increases the worth of their work. Ignoring disabled talent due to the myth we’re less productive means they’re missing out on the unique skills and qualities we bring: our resourcefulness, resilience, adaptability, creativity and tenacity. It means shutting the door on one fifth of the UK’s disabled population and the untapped potential there. It means missing out on richness and diversity.
The onus can’t be on us, however, to challenge disability myths and end our devaluation. It’s the structures creating these conditions which need to change. It’s a vicious cycle: disabled people aren’t valued so no effort is made to be inclusive, which means disabled people are shut out of spaces and the myth around our worthlessness increases. Our work and ourselves are devalued even more, and the cycle continues.
Breaking this cycle requires action on the part of every organisation in the UK. Every business, government body and NGO needs to take a long hard look at their disability inclusion strategy and investigate how it works in practice. What’s the disability pay gap and disability employment gap in your own company and how can you close it? When you’re adding to your team is every stage of the hiring process authentically accessible and inclusive? Is the language you use to talk about disability reinforcing any dangerous, false beliefs?
Disabled people do ‘understand money’ – and we know much more. We know that our work is more than equal to that of non-disabled people. We know that our difference is an asset, not a weakness. And we know that, together, we can all come to understand this.
Want to find out more about how you can identify and remove the barriers in your workplace? Get in touch with the team at TAP – we’d love to talk.