The Disability Wage Gap in the UK
I started my current job in June and I have taken 5.5 sick days since I started because I have a chronic illness called Functional Neurological Disorder.
My workplace has a sick pay policy which means that during my first six months, if I exceed 5 sick days I no longer receive full pay, only half pay for any sick days taken.
I was informed of this after I had to take 2 sick days because I was having 20 seizures in a day.
I think most people would take more than 2 days for that. But I knew that I couldn’t, I knew that taking more than two days wasn’t an option for me because my sick days are like rations that I have to carefully measure and parcel out only when I am on the brink of starving.
And that was before I was down to half pay. When it was only because I couldn’t have my employers thinking badly of me, believing I was slacking or lazy. Now it’s financial.
I earn a measly £21,000 salary and I live in one of the top ten most expensive places to in the UK, which means that losing half a day’s pay makes a noticeable dent in my monthly income. Ironically, the disability pay gap is also highest here, in the East of England.
I cannot afford to regularly lose out on half a day’s pay.
I also cannot change the reality of my disability.
It is unpredictable, uncontrollable and worsened by stress. So where does that leave me? It leaves me financially worse off. It leaves me earning less money because I am disabled.
Sick pay policies that reduce your earnings are ableist. By telling your employees that they will not receive full pay if they take too many sick days, you are discriminating against disabled employees.
Nobody can control when they get sick, and disabled people are even less able to prevent days off but this does not mean they cannot do their jobs or that they deserve to be paid less.
I average at 1-2 sick days a month. This does not mean I cannot work full-time or that I cannot do my job, so why am I being paid less?
2020 research from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) shows that the current disability pay gap sits at 20% in the UK. Non-disabled female employees earn £1.53 per hour more than disabled female employees, and that’s without accounting for the impact of race (Louron Pratt, 2020).
This is the result of inaccessible work places, inflexible hours and discriminatory sick pay policies, as well as many other things.
Over 18% of the UK population suffer from a long-term illness, impairment or disability, that’s more than 10 million people, and those numbers are set to rise in the wake of the pandemic. Disabled people are the largest minority group in the UK.
So why aren’t we being paid the same as our able-bodied colleagues?
Why did I pay £35 to have 20 seizures in a day?
And why don’t people care?