Northern Ireland lags far behind the rest of the UK when it comes to keeping people with disabilities in the labor market, according to new research.
us more than one in three people with disabilities work in IN, compared to more than half of people with disabilities in the UK.
A new study from the Center for Economic Policy at the University of Ulster shows that 70% of disabled people in Northern Ireland who are currently unemployed were previously active in the labor market.
Unemployed persons with disabilities are 2.5 times more likely to be in poverty than employed persons with disabilities – 38% of households in relative poverty include a person with a disability.
Report co-author Mark Magill told the BBC that NI has a higher proportion of people with more “limiting” health conditions, which impact daily activity.
‘It would ban employment to a greater extent than other parts of the UK,’ he explained.
“We also have a lower qualifications profile, when we compare people with disabilities to people without disabilities in Northern Ireland and compare people with disabilities to people with disabilities in other parts of the UK.”
But these structural factors do not explain the entire gap, he pointed out, there are other unquantifiable issues at play.
Shirelle Stewart, director of NI’s National Autistic Society, said people don’t know what it is to be autistic and that lack of understanding means barriers are erected that prevent people with autism from accessing to work.
“For example, when it comes to very basic things like an ad, you’ll find that employers often ask for good communication skills, even if the job doesn’t mean you communicate.
“Then you will find that people with autism start to exclude themselves before they even get to the interview stage.
“So there are structural barriers and there are also behavioral barriers.”
Employers should make adjustments to create a level playing field, Ms Stewart said.
The environment could also be adjusted so that there is a quiet place to accommodate the sensory difference that people with autism face.
Claire Burke, a law graduate, told the BBC that due to autism she struggled to complete an application form.
Group interviews are also a problem for people with autism, and employers aren’t willing to make “reasonable adjustments” even if the job wouldn’t require group work, she said.
“I also find that once you reveal you have autism, it goes totally against you because employers just don’t want to know.
“They can’t see that we have a pretty exclusive skill set.”
The New Decade New Approach (NDNA) agreement, published in 2020, set out the priorities for the restored Northern Irish executive.
The NDNA agreement stipulated that the NI Program for Government (PfG) could be underpinned by a number of key support strategies, including a disability strategy. The strategy is to be released later this year.
The commitment to this strategy emphasizes that political parties, government, civil society society and employers have all embraced the ambition to tackle, among other things, the entrenched disadvantage that people with disabilities face in the labor market.
Addressing barriers to improving outcomes for people with disabilities has become an economic necessity in the face of labor shortages, challenging demographic prospects and a higher proportion of the population expected to develop health problems term over the next decade, according to the UU report.
In NI, more than one-fifth of the population between the ages of 16 and 64 is disabled. This represents nearly a quarter of a million people, representing significant potential to boost NI’s labor supply.
Among regions in the UK, NI not only has the lowest disabled employment rate, but also the largest employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people.
Unfortunately, over the past two decades, progress in closing the employment gap for people with disabilities has been and remains extremely slow despite numerous government interventions over the past decades.
NI’s disabled population includes a higher incidence of more onerous conditions and a lower qualification profile.
This structural composition helps explain why the employment rate gap for people with disabilities in NI is wider than the average UK region and why the employment rate for people with disabilities in NI is lower than the UK average.
However, after controlling for these factors, there is still evidence of a disability employment penalty in the NI labor market.
The data on qualifications is particularly striking. Fewer people with disabilities obtain tertiary qualifications, with less than a third (28%) of the population aged 16-64 having achieved the highest NQF 4+2 qualification level, compared to almost half ( 49%) of the non-disabled population.
However, the employment rate of disabled people with higher education is lower than the employment rate of the least qualified non-disabled people. This suggests limited labor market opportunities for people with disabilities, even with high skill levels.
People with disabilities are more likely to work part-time, and therefore fewer hours on average. A third of people with disabilities in employment work part-time in the NI, compared to less than a fifth in the UK.
People with disabilities who are employed (13%) are more likely than people without disabilities (10%) to be self-employed.
This is likely due to both push factors (e.g. lack of employer flexibility) and pull factors (e.g. ability to choose tasks, times and location) .
Together these factors contribute to people with disabilities making up a smaller proportion of the overall workforce than in the UK, with people with disabilities accounting for 8% of total hours worked in NI, compared to 12% United Kingdom.
The UU paper made a number of recommendations, including investing in education to provide more opportunities for people with disabilities, changing employers’ hiring behaviors, improving statutory sick pay for people with disabilities who may need more time off and empowerment of employers.