The employment consequences of disability onset in the UK

While the disability employment gap forms a critical measure of disability inequality in the labour market and an important focus for government policy it represents a static measure of the impact of disability on employment, which aggregates across a range of experiences of disability (only some of which are permanent) to produce an overall snapshot measure.

The availability of rich data which track the same individual over time facilitates more detailed exploration of the impact of disability onset, that is, the impact of becoming disabled during working age. Tthe vast majority of working age disabled people in the UK experience disability onset during their working lives. This longitudinal data facilitates a comparison of how employment changes before, at and after disability onset for the same individual and provides an alternative measure of the impact of disability on employment. Research from disability@work has found that the probability of employment declines at disability onset relative to individuals who remain non-disabled and relative to individuals who become disabled one year later. The latter is argued to be a more appropriate comparison given these individuals are found to be more similar, including for example, in terms of age and education. Even among otherwise similar individuals the probability of employment is found to decline from 75 to 63 percent over a period of two years for those who experience disability onset, compared to 75 to 74 percent for those who will subsequently experience disability onset one year later. The research also finds that individuals with lower educational attainment experience a larger reduction in employment at disability onset.

Research by disability@work also highlights that among those who experience disability exit, that is disabled people who go on to subsequently not report being disabled, there is little evidence of re-engagement with the labour market in the UK. Importantly this may suggest a ‘scarring effect’ whereby current labour market outcomes are adversely affected by past effects of disability, reinforcing the importance of policy support for individuals to retain work at disability onset.

Articles within this theme:

Jones, M. and McVicar, D. (2020) “Estimating the Impact of Disability Onset on Employment”, Social Science and Medicine, forthcoming 2020.

Jones, M., Mavromaras, K., Sloane, P. and Wei, Z. (2018) “The Dynamic effect of Disability on Work and Subjective Well-being in Australia”, Oxford Economic Papers, Vol. 70(3), July 2018, p635–657.

Jones, M., Davies, R. and Drinkwater, S. (2018) “The Dynamics of Disability and Work in Britain” The Manchester School, Vol. 86(3), June 2018, p279-307.

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