OPINION - Working from home worked for disabled people — we have been forgotten in the rush back to the office

Sir Robin Millar wants to close the DEG (Robin Millar)
Sir Robin Millar wants to close the DEG (Robin Millar)

Working from home seemed to be a situation for disabled people that would be game-changing. Many of my disabled friends had been asking their employers for years to work from home. Disabled people find any journey, let alone a rush-hour commute, daunting and stressful. So remote working should be the ultimate equaliser.

However, in the past two years the employment gap between disabled and others has not reduced. It has remained the same. The disability employment gap (DEG) has stuck at around 30 percentage points for over a decade. That can’t be because disabled people have stopped applying for jobs. It’s something more fundamental. Employers just don’t consider us.

Scope research looking at 1,000 disabled people last year found the overwhelming majority felt remote working benefitted them and their employer. But many have not been offered the opportunity. Scope found 60 per cent of disabled people who left the workplace had not been offered this.

Something that helped many disabled people, making it easier to work, to get a job, to look after our health and wellbeing was removed

Imagine the number of disabled people who would stay in work, benefitting their employer and our economy, if remote working was more widespread. Some employers have taken away home working and made us go back to the office. Something that helped many disabled people, making it easier to work, to get a job, to look after our health and wellbeing was removed.

It’s no surprise the DEG hasn’t shifted. The very thing that would help close it — flexible work without the stress of commuting — is not offered enough.

This is a folly by businesses. A 2023 Accenture report found companies that have led on key disability inclusion criteria saw 1.6 times more revenue, 2.6 times more net income and twice as much economic profit than other companies in the report. If we were to halve the DEG, we could see a £17 billion increase to the economy each year.

Working from home would be a step closer to that.

Working from home has not been the pivotal moment for disabled people we thought it would. Governments must look at this failure. We found that a staggering 78 per cent of disabled people think politicians are out of touch with their lives. Given there are 16 million disabled people in the UK, they must be heard on this issue.

Sir Robin Millar is chairman of Scope