People with disabilities half as likely to be employed, report says

Ibec paper urges reforms to boost employment opportunities

In Ireland, a person with a disability is just over half as likely to be employed as a non-disabled peer, according to a new study published by the employers' group Ibec.

The report says Ireland’s rate of employment amongst people with disabilities is half the European average, and the gap between the employment rate of people with and without disabilities is also the second widest in the EU.

The report says 36.5 per cent of people (aged 15-64) with a disability are at work, compared to 72.8 per cent of people without a disability.

The Ibec paper, produced in collaboration with Employers for Change, the employer disability information service providers, maintains that more than one in seven people in Ireland have a disability – over 640,000 people.


However it says that despite the period of sustained economic growth in Ireland over the last decade, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw unemployment rates fall to about five per cent, outcomes for people with disabilities have been slow to change.

“For many people with disabilities, finding and sustaining work is a challenge, starting from the guidance received during education about subjects and careers, through to the availability of opportunities. Furthermore, about 70 per cent of working-age people with a disability or chronic illness have acquired that disability during their lifetime.”

The report says that despite the stated ambition in Ireland for greater employment for people with disabilities, “for every €1 being spent on direct income supports for people with disabilities (things like disability allowance, invalidity pension and blind pension) the State is only spending 2.4 cent on employment supports (such as the employability service, partial capacity benefit and disability activation and employment supports)”.

The report recommends a series of reforms including:

* Greater investment in evidence-based employment supports to benefit individuals with disability, the economy and society.
* Reworking and updating the current grants system.
* Amalgamating all the current disability supports into one grant.
* Creating an online application platform for all grants and supports.
* Removing the onus from the employer to apply for grant support.
* Providing €15million to extend personal assistant supports.
* Increasing the Subsidy Scheme for persons with a disability.
* Removing the threshold of 21.5 hours work per week required to access the subsidy scheme for persons with a disability.

The report says there are a range of obstacles to employment experienced by individuals with disabilities and potential employers.

It says for the person with the disability these included the loss of a medical card, the cost of assistive technology potentially making it prohibitive to take up employment, prohibitive rules on retention of benefits versus the number of working hours and fear of not requalifying for benefit if the job does not work or if their circumstances disimprove.

For potential employers, the report says, there can be a lack of awareness of disability or a perception of what may be involved in reasonable accommodation and concerns over costs.

It says there can also be fear of legal liability/making a mistake and ending up down a litigious route as well as concerns about potential risks of employing a person with a disability.

Ibec head of social policy Kara McGann said: “Improving employment opportunities for people with disability is a critical element for enhancing the quality of life for individuals and their families, but there are also substantial gains for organisations and the broader economy. Further initiatives by Government and business will be necessary to achieve a significant improvement in labour market outcomes for people with disabilities. Employers have a key role to play in taking steps to recruit and retain people with disabilities in their organisations and a whole of government approach will also be essential as the current siloed approach means issues can fall between the span of different areas and fail members of our existing and potential workforce from fulfilling their potential.”

The director of Employers for Change at The Open Doors Initiative, Christabelle Feeney said that to achieve the ambition of improving the employment opportunities for those with a disability required a sea change in attitudes and perceptions around disability "and instead of'othering' people, making the necessary changes to ensure we have an equitable society for all".

“ We need to take a collaborative approach across both the public and private sector to ensure that the fundamental changes are made and that the essential supports follow the individual.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent