Three in five disabled people in Northern Ireland out of work
Three in five disabled people of working age in Northern Ireland are not in employment, new figures suggest.
An equalities charity has said the labour market is "rigged" against people with disabilities.
Figures from the Department of Work and Pensions suggest there were around 262,000 disabled people aged 16 to 64 in Northern Ireland as of June – 60% of whom were not in work.
This compares to 18% among those without disabilities.
Across the UK there were 9.6 million disabled people – a rise of 1.9 million on June 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic.
The gap in employment rates between the disabled and non-disabled population has remained steady, but is currently slightly smaller than in 2013-14, when local figures were first available.
At this point, the same figures show 66% of around 206,000 disabled people in Northern Ireland were out of work.
Fazilet Hadi, head of policy at Disability Rights UK, said: "The UK Government previously had a commitment to halve the gap, but stepped away from this ambitious target. There is a lot the Government can do to support disabled people into work and to stop disabled workers falling out of the labour market."
She urged support for the Disability Employment Charter, which calls on the Government to introduce new measures to support disabled workers.
These include requiring companies to report the difference in pay between disabled and non-disabled staff, and improve workplace adjustments for those who need them.
Rates vary significantly across the UK – in the North East, 45% of disabled people were in employment, compared to 60% in the East of England.
James Taylor, director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, urged businesses to "recognise, promote and nurture" disabled talent, but said the Government must also work to improve conditions.
He said: "Our labour market is rigged against disabled people. Businesses are letting talented disabled people slip through their fingers by not supporting disabled employees.
"Poor attitudes, inflexible working practices, delays to Access to Work, and low sick pay rates all make it harder for disabled people to stay and thrive in work."
"Disabled people are losing out on work unfairly and being pushed into a broken benefits system that includes sanctions," he added.
Helping people with long-term sickness back into work was a stated aim of this year's Spring Budget.
The figures further show 124,000 people aged 16 to 64 in the nation were classed as 'economically inactive' due to long-term sickness.
A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said: "We’re committed to closing the disability employment gap, and we've seen 2.2 million more disabled people in work since 2013."
They continued: "Our next generation of welfare reforms will see an extra £2 billion break down barriers to work for those with disabilities and health conditions, including joined-up health and employment support and extra work coach time, so everyone can fulfil their potential."