Work is an essential activity for most people. It provides an income to pay for the necessities of life such as food and housing. It also gives many a purpose for their life. People with disabilities desire the benefits of work, particularly as many disabilities are expensive to manage. But in Australia people with disabilities have less chance than those without a disability of being employed.
Employment participation rate
The labour force participation rate is a measure of those aged 15-64 who are working or actively looking for work. An Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report on Disability, Aging and Carers (2012) said the participation rate of Victorians with disabilities was 53.9 per cent in 2012. People without a disability had a much higher participation rate of 82.2 per cent. So there is a 28.3 per cent gap.
Some disabilities like severe intellectual or physical disabilities may make it impossible for people to work. In 2012, Victorians with a severe disability had a labour force participation rate of only 29 per cent.
The Australian Network on Disability is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities in business. It has many major businesses as members. Deputy CEO Jason Barker agrees that the employment gap for people with disabilities is significant but believes it's important to focus on the efforts of organisations to reduce that gap.
“Many organisations are making good headway in employing and retaining people with disability”, says Mr Barker. He gives the example of Westpac where 12.1 per cent of its workforce say they have a disability.
The unemployment rate is a percentage of the labour force who cannot find work. According to the ABS, 10.2 per cent of Victorians with a disability in 2012 were unemployed, which is an increase from 7.8 per cent in 2009. The unemployment rate for people without disabilities decreased during that period from 5.4 per cent in 2009 to 5.2 per cent in 2012.
So why is the unemployment rate higher for people with disabilities? And why is the labour force participation rate so much lower for people with disabilities?
Flexible working conditions
A 2012 Bureau of statistics report on Australian Social Trends (March Quarter 2012) suggests a few reasons why people with a disability might not be working. Disabilities often restrict the type of work that people can do, thus limiting their work options. Many people with disabilities need flexible working conditions so they can manage their disabilities. Flexible working conditions might include working from home as some disabilities make it hard to travel to work.
Disabilities can restrict learning
Disabilities can make it hard to study, so people with disabilities may not gain the educational qualifications asked for by employers. The ABS said a recent survey found that 49 per cent of people aged 18–24 had completed year 12, but the completion rate was a lower 38 per cent for people with disabilities in that age group.
Disability Employment Australia is a national association that represents disability employment services providers. Its chairperson, Rick Kane, says “Historically society has set low expectations for people with disability from school onwards, so they don’t investigate career aspirations and experience work conditions when they are young, which is a precursor to further employment and career development”.
Mr Kane suggests a three-year national media campaign to change negative attitudes around disability and help create more inclusive recruitment practices from employers.
Afraid of losing the pension
Mr Kane also says one reason for the lower labour force participation rate is the Disability Support Pension (DSP). He says the DSP tends to emphasis “what a person can’t do (disability), not what they can do (ability)". The pension “may also be seen as protection against failing in the workforce”. People on the disability support pension “might not want to risk their entitlement by participating in the labour force”.
Mismatching candidates for jobs
The Australian Network on Disability’s Jason Barker says that sometimes the skills of candidates put forward by employment services do not match the job description.
“One of the key things that assists employers is when candidates are clear about their skills and capabilities and are passionate about the industry, the company and the particular role they are going after.” He says that members of his organisation want to know if a candidate can do the job.
Mr Barker adds that his member organisations “are happy to make reasonable workplace adjustments to assist” people with disabilities.
These are only some of the causes of the substantially lower labour force participation for people with disabilities. Multiple causes require multiple solutions to enable more people with disabilities to work.