Work with us to fix ‘utter injustice’ of poor disability employment, small businesses urge Government

  • Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) launches latest major report alongside 10-point plan for disability and entrepreneurship with backing from Mind and Scope  
  • New study finds that majority of small employers have taken on a member of staff with a disability or health condition in recent years  
  • UK’s largest business group calls for target of 100,000 new disabled entrepreneurs by 2025, a revamped New Enterprise Allowance, comprehensive Statutory Sick Pay rebate and introduction of a new disability Kickstart Scheme  

More than a million small business owners and sole traders are managing disabilities or health conditions on a daily basis, with a sizeable share reporting that they have been subject to discrimination or negative treatment, according to the latest study from FSB.   

Its new ‘Business Without Barriers’ report finds that more than half (51%) of small employers have employed someone they know to have a disability or health condition in the past three years.

Amongst small business owners who themselves have a disability or health condition, the share of those who would employ people they know to have disabilities or health conditions is even greater (66%).

Despite this, only one in twenty (5%) small businesses have used the Government’s Access to Work scheme and fewer than one in ten (8%) disabled business owners have accessed local authority business support services – the share is half that of their non-disabled counterparts (16%).   

A quarter (25%) of small business owners across the UK are managing a disability or health condition on a daily basis, and close to one in four (24%) of these business owners report suffering discrimination or negative treatment.

Latest official figures show there are 5.5 million small businesses across the UK, indicating that well over a million business owners have a health condition or disability.

The disability employment gap – the percentage point difference between disabled people in work and the employment rate for the economy as a whole – currently stands at just over 28%, with small businesses employing a larger proportion of disabled people in their overall workforce than larger counterparts.

In response to the findings, FSB is launching a 10-Point Plan for Disability and Entrepreneurship and a freely accessible resource hub on its website for small businesses, going live tomorrow.    

FSB National Chair Martin McTague said: “It is an utter injustice that so many disabled people are denied the opportunities that employment and entrepreneurship bring.

“This can and should be fixed by Government and enterprise working together. Too often we have seen small moves and siloed approaches in this area – we all need to show the ambition necessary to overcome the scale of the barriers disabled people face in our economy.

“At a time when we need more people to set up a small business and drive the economy, more than half of disabled entrepreneurs say they have experienced a barrier due to their disability or health condition.

“Addressing this would create more economic activity and enterprise, which is why we also want to see Government commit to a target for 100,000 new disabled entrepreneurs by 2025.”

FSB’s Disability, Health, and Wellbeing Policy Chair, Julian John said:“This 10-Point Plan – and the host of other recommendations we have made across Whitehall departments – shows how Government and business can work together to bring more disabled people into workplaces to the benefit of individuals, local communities and the economy as a whole.”

Louise Rubin, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Scope, said: “At Scope, we know that small businesses play a vital role in employing disabled people, as highlighted in this report.

“But it is clear that many small businesses need better support from Government if they are to increase the number of disabled people that come into – and thrive in – their organisations.”

“The latest figures show that the disability employment gap has grown to 28.9 percent. The gap has been stuck at around this figure for more than a decade and action is desperately needed.

“We support the recommendations put forward by the FSB and particularly welcome proposals to improve Access to Work, and to fund disability employment schemes that support disabled people into work for the first time.”

“We would urge Government to carefully consider the recommendations included in the report as it reviews policy in this area.”

Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind, said:“Employees with mental health problems face many barriers to accessing and staying in jobs suited to their individual skills and aspirations, and too often people fall out of work because they don’t get the support they need.

“We welcome this FSB report, particularly the recommendations around extending the types of medical professionals who can provide fit notes when people need time off sick and making sure employees who’ve been off sick are offered phased returns to work.

“With employee mental health worsening during the pandemic, it’s never been more important for employers to invest in staff wellbeing, which helps improve productivity, morale and retention and decreases sickness absence.”

FSB’s 10-Point Plan for Disability Employment and Entrepreneurship:

  1. Act to close the Disability Entrepreneurship Gap, including by committing to a target for 100,000 new disabled entrepreneurs by 2025, and 250,000 more by 2030.
  2. Redress disadvantage at the point of recruitment, including through a new disability Kickstart Scheme to make the most of pandemic-era policy innovation and give disabled people who are long-term unemployed their first proper chance in the workplace.
  3. Increase retention following sickness absence, including through a full Statutory Sick Pay rebate which prompts phased return to work for people who are off sick and by allowing a wider range of health professionals such as physios and mental health nurses to complete sign-off of Fit Notes.
  4. Promote progression in work for disabled people, including by allowing all disabled employees to ‘passport’ their portable Access to Work support to a new employer if they secure a new job.
  5. Help make workplaces better for disabled employees, including through new Line Management Bootcamps so front-line managers are better able to support disabled staff and deliver flexible working.
  1. Smooth transition from education to employment, including through joining up careers guidance and disability support, making sure disabled children access work experience and rolling out Access to Work passports for all young disabled people.
  1. Make treatment easier to manage alongside work, including by introducing stricter waiting time targets and service standards in the NHS for musculoskeletal problems and mental health treatment; and reviewing NICE clinical guidance to ensure better co-ordination between the health system and employment support.
  1. Improve JobCentre Plus’ offer to disabled people, including making Universal Credit more responsive to fluctuating health conditions and launching a revitalised version of the New Enterprise Allowance to help disabled jobseekers start their own businesses.
  2. Increase availability of Occupational Health support, including by making it easier for large firms to make Employee Assistance Programmes available to suppliers and delivering the findings from its testing and evaluation of the OH subsidy for SMEs and the self-employed within the next six months.
  3. Make disability employment central to cross-Government decision making including by establishing disability employment as a cross-departmental outcome metric in the Treasury’s Priority Outcomes targets and increasing the level of internal scrutiny of Equality Impact Assessments.

About FSB
As experts in business, FSB offers members a wide range of vital business services, including advice, financial expertise, support and a powerful voice in Government. Its aim is to help smaller businesses achieve their ambitions. More information is available at You can follow us on twitter @fsb_policy.