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Disabled more likely to be in lower-paid and non-homeworking jobs – analysis

04 Dec 2023 5 minute read
A supermarket check out

Around one in seven care workers and home carers in England and Wales have a disability, along with one in six retail cashiers and check-out operators, new analysis shows.

The proportion is similar for people working in call centres or as crossing patrol officers.

But the figure is even higher for care escorts – someone who travels with elderly or disabled people to help them get to appointments – at around one in five.

A leading charity said the findings suggest people with disabilities are “over-represented” in lower-paid roles that do not involve home working.

The Leonard Cheshire organisation warned that the UK Government should be focused on targeted support rather than benefit cuts as part of its controversial welfare changes aimed at getting people on disability benefits back into work.

The analysis has been compiled by the PA news agency using data from the 2021 census released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).


The census asked respondents to self-identify as disabled, which was defined as having a long-term physical or mental health condition or illness, lasting or expected to last 12 months or more.

Some 20.8% of care escorts in England and Wales, or 3,720 people, told the census they had a disability – the highest proportion for any occupation.

Among care workers and home carers the figure was 14.6%, or 124,885 people, while for retail cashiers and check-out operators it was 15.9% (12,990).

The analysis, which focused on only those occupations with at least 10,000 workers, also showed library clerks and assistants (18.8% or 3,530 people), school crossing patrol workers (15.6% or 12,005), and youth work professionals (also 15.6% or 1,820) were in the top 10 jobs with the highest percentages.

Leonard Cheshire, which aims to help remove barriers faced by disabled people in how they live, learn and work, said it is “revealing” that some of the occupations with low proportions of people identifying as disabled tended to be higher paid.

Just 5.0% of GPs told the census they had a disability (7,975 people), with an even smaller proportion of 0.6% (1,040) saying their condition limited their day-to-day lives “a lot”.

Dr Hannah Barham-Brown, a GP registrar from North Yorkshire, said she found it disappointing but not shocking to see under-representation in roles like hers.

The 36-year-old, who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and uses a wheelchair, said: “It’s disappointing to see such a small number of disabled people in roles like GPs, though sadly unsurprising.

“As a wheelchair user myself, I always say that more disabled doctors – including more of what I call ‘roll models’ – would help both disabled and non-disabled patients. But for this to happen, attitudes need to change and accessibility must improve.”


Other examples of higher-paid professions with low proportions of disabled employees include dentists (3.9% or 1,270 people), financial managers and directors (6.1% or 20,995 people) and chief executives and senior officials (6.3% or 7,780 people).

Some 6.4% of headteachers and principals are disabled, equivalent to 3,500 people, falling to 0.8% (435) who said they were “limited a lot” by their disability.

Nic Darker, who leads Leonard Cheshire’s employment programmes, said: “The latest census statistics show disabled people are underrepresented in higher-paying jobs and more likely to hold lower-paying jobs.”

He said the organisation’s own research showed one in five employers were less likely to hire a disabled candidate, and said disabled people must be provided with more specialised, tailored jobs support.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has said the work capability assessment, used to decide how much someone’s disability limits their capability to work, will be reformed “to reflect greater flexibility and availability of home-working after the pandemic”.

New claims

The welfare changes, applying to new claims only from 2025, would see people required to take part in a mandatory work placement and threatened with losing benefits if they do not look for work.

Mr Darker said offering support under threat of benefit cuts and sanctions “will only result in demonising disabled people who draw on benefits, leaving many feeling the system distrusts them and no closer to equal employment opportunities”.

He added: “Although the Government attempts to justify increased sanctions by claiming that disabled people can work from home, we know that home-working options are not always available and not suitable for everyone.

“Disabled people are already over-represented in roles that do not involve home working, especially in retail and social care, as the census data shows.

“Wider statistics also show only one in ten jobs advertised this year offered homeworking as an option.

“Digital exclusion disproportionately affects disabled people, and for some a lack of access to assistive technology is a further barrier to homeworking.”

The PA analysis also found that among sales and retail assistants, the most common occupation across the entire workforce in England and Wales, 12.3% told the census they were disabled – the equivalent of 137,080 out of 1.11 million people.

Care workers and home carers is the second most common occupation (14.6% identifying as disabled, or 124,885 people), followed by cleaners and domestics (12.7% or 75,485) and warehouse operatives (8.1%, or 38,265 people).

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