People With a Disability Still Struggle to Find Work – Under Half are Employed

Melanie Carroll
Aug 18 2021

New Zealand’s “disability employment crisis” continues, with unemployment rising for people with disabilities, says the chief executive of Workbridge.

Unemployment remained high for people with a disability, with only 42.5 per cent of working age disabled people in work in the three months ended June, Stats NZ said on Wednesday.

That compared with the 78.9 per cent of non-disabled people aged 15 to 64 who were employed over the June quarter.

“I’m pretty despondent about it, to be honest, because there is a fractional increase,” said Jonathan Mosen, head of disability employment organisation Workbridge.

“What we’re seeing is that when the general population’s unemployment rate, our unemployment rate has actually gone up in the same period.”

The non-disabled unemployment rate in the June quarter was unchanged from a year earlier at 4 per cent, but for people with disabilities it was 9.6 per cent, up from 8.3 per cent.

People with disabilities, aged between 15 to 64, had a median weekly income of $962 compared with $1106 for non-disabled people, a gap of $114 a week.

The number of disabled people not in employment, education or training had gone up to 48 per cent, said Mosen, who is blind and hearing impaired.

“I’ve been calling this a disability employment crisis since I assumed this role two years ago and some people have thought I’m being emotive.

“But if you had this type of unemployment numbers for any other minority, it would be on the front page of the paper until it was fixed and the Government was held to account for putting in place some remedial measures,” he said.

“Whichever way you look at it there’s absolutely no good news whatsoever for disabled people in these stats.”

Workbridge was funded in the main by a contract with the Ministry of Social Development, he said. The contract had become more prescriptive over time, based on the purchase of specific outcomes.

“It doesn’t allow us with that funding to take into account training – so we have clearly got a skills gap here with so few disabled people involved in education. We’re also not able to help with things like digital poverty through this contract.”

A lot of disabled people could not afford to get online, which was a particular concern during the Covid-19 pandemic with a lot of businesses and services focusing more on digital.

“We just need additional help to make New Zealand a more disability-confident country,” he said.

“Often people think we’re a risk in the workplace, we’re a health and safety hazard, and we just don’t have a lot of funds to do that disability confidence education and put employers at their ease. We’re not the risk that they think we are, we’ve just got to constructively educate.”

The Government could play a big role with social procurement, if it required companies bidding for government contracts to show they were good at hiring people with disabilities, he said.

Only 42.5 per cent of working age disabled people are in work, Stats NZ says.

There had been no significant improvement in the employment gap since 2017 when Stats NZ began collecting data on the labour market outcomes of disabled people in the unemployment survey, said Stats NZ wellbeing and housing statistics manager Dr Claire Bretherton.

“This shows that disabled people are under-represented in the workforce,” she said.

“Employment can play an important role in a person’s wellbeing, not only providing income, but also social connection and a sense of purpose.”

The underutilisation rate was 10.3 per cent for the non-disabled population but 21.8 per cent for working age people with disabilities.

Working age disabled people were more likely than non-disabled people to be in part-time work, at 28.7 per cent and 18.5 per cent, respectively, but they still earned less an hour.

The median hourly earnings from wages and salaries for disabled people was $25.22, compared with $27.81 for non-disabled people.

Disabled people were also more likely to rate their job security poorly, Bretherton said, with almost one in 10 feeling they had a high or almost certain chance of losing their job or business in the next 12 months. That was more than double the rate for non-disabled people in the same age group, at 4 per cent.

The statistics were for the three months to the end of June, and taken from the Household Labour Force Survey.

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