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Where are disabled women in the Scottish Government’s Disability Employment Plan?

To further their ambition of at least halving the disability employment gap in Scotland, the Scottish Government have published an employment action plan for disabled people. The Plan proposes actions for supporting disabled people into employment, supporting employers to recruit and retain disabled people and improving the employment experience.

Disabled women are undoubtedly affected by the disability employment gap and, at Close the Gap, our work has shown that disabled women face dual labour market disadvantage on account of their gender and disability. Disabled women also face different barriers to employment than the barriers faced by disabled men.

Despite this, and the fact the Plan identifies the forthcoming Gender Pay Gap Action Plan as an aligned area of work, there is no mention of gender or the specific barriers faced by disabled women. The baseline data used to inform the Plan is not disaggregated by gender, meaning the gendered differences in employment rates and occupations are rendered invisible to the reader and within implementation.

For instance, the Plan highlights that disabled people want more job opportunities that offer flexible working. However, while we know that flexible working opportunities are particularly important for women who must balance earning with caring, there is no mention of gender in the context of flexible working. There is also no mention of accessible and affordable childcare as being a key barrier for disabled women entering and progressing within work.

The Plan outlines a range of actions to address the barriers faced by disabled parents living in households affected by child poverty. However, there is yet again no connection made between child poverty and women’s poverty. This is in direct contradiction to existing evidence and the Scottish Government’s own Child Poverty Delivery Plan which asserts that gender and poverty are inextricably interlinked. Overall, the actions fail to take account of the socially constructed difference between women’s and men’s lives and experiences.

Not referencing gender means ignoring the pre-existing evidence of the differing experience of disabled men and women in the labour market.

Close the Gap’s response to the Government’s recent consultation on improving the employment of disabled people in the public sector highlighted that disabled women are more likely to be under-employed and are more likely to be in low-paid jobs than non-disabled people. 35% of disabled women are paid below the National Living Wage compared with 25% of non-disabled men and 29% of non-disabled women.

When comparing average hourly earnings, disabled women face a larger pay gap than non-disabled women. The average pay gap for disabled women is 22% when compared with non-disabled men and 11% when compared with disabled men.

Despite the increased focus on gender equality by the Scottish Government, we continue to see gender-blind policy-making. At Close the Gap, we are advocating for an intersectional approach to labour market policy. In the context of the Disability Employment Plan, this should involve the recognition that disabled people are not a homogenous group and disabled women’s experiences will be inflected by ableism and sexism.

This makes for such disappointing reading because an employment action plan which does not actively consider women and does not utilise gender disaggregated data in design, delivery and evaluation will simply not improve labour market outcomes for women. Ultimately, the experiences of disabled women are invisible within this Plan.

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