New data shows COVID recovery needs to focus on disabled people

New data shows COVID recovery needs to focus on disabled people

August 28, 2020

New household labour force data showing 1 in 4 disabled people are employed underlines the need for the COVID-19 recovery by government and business to focus on the needs of disabled people, says Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero MNZM. 

The latest Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) found a 46.8% point employment rate gap between working-age disabled people and non-disabled people at 22.5% and 69.3% respectively.

Tesoriero was disappointed to see the proportion of employed disabled people has not changed significantly since the HLFS began including disability data four years ago.

“We now have a four-year time series with no real improvements for disabled people’s employment opportunities. The unchanged rate demonstrates the critical need for government and business to ensure the COVID-19 recovery focuses on building accessible infrastructure and is inclusive to disabled people,” said Paula Tesoriero MNZM.

Labour force participation for disabled people was 24.3%, compared with 72.1% for non-disabled people, and the unemployment rate for disabled people was 7.4%, compared with 3.9% for non-disabled people.

“These disparities represent a significant waste of talent, real hardship in people’s lives, lower incomes and financial difficulties,“ Tesoriero said.

Although there are some limitations on the data, the survey found disabled youth were less likely to be employed or to be participating in education or training (NEET). The NEET rate for young disabled people aged 15–24 years was 48.2 percent, compared with 10.6 percent for non-disabled youth.

“It’s particularly concerning to see young disabled people continue to experience significant disparities in education, employment and training compared to their non-disabled peers. This starts from the beginning of their employment or tertiary education journey.”

The government has the Working Matters all-of-government action plan aimed at supporting people to steer their own employment futures, backing people who want to work and employers with the right support and partnering with industry to increase good work opportunities for disabled people and people with health conditions. This plan also supports the government’s commitment to ensure an inclusive economic recovery from COVID-19. 

“The economic recovery from COVID-19 is an opportunity for a step-change for disabled people. Now more than ever is time to focus on providing equal employment opportunities for disabled people and ensure an inclusive approach to the COVID-19 recovery. That’s why the government’s Working Matters action plan must be implemented without delay.”

The Commissioner voiced her support for a recently launched Workbridge policy paper which called for a more personalised and flexible employment support system for disabled people and employers to improve outcomes as part of the COVID-19 recovery.

“Covid-19 is making employment more elusive than ever for disabled people. Businesses can assist by providing flexible work conditions and access to assistive technologies.  These are relatively quick gains that can support equal access to employment opportunities for disabled people.”


Correction: A previous version of this statement noted that 'three in four working-age disabled people are unemployed'. This has been corrected to 1 in 4 disabled people are employed.