We explore disability-related labour market inequality in the UK during COVID-19.
We estimate COVID-19 work-related risk factors and changes in outcomes.
Disabled workers face greater COVID-19 economic and health risks pre-pandemic.
Disability gaps in employment and pay exhibit minimal change one year post-pandemic.
Disabled workers have a markedly larger rise in being temporarily away from work.
The economic impact of COVID-19 has exacerbated inequalities in society, but disability has been neglected. This paper contributes to this knowledge gap by providing a comprehensive analysis of the differential labour market impact of COVID-19 by disability in the UK. Using data from the Labour Force Survey before and during the pandemic it estimates disability gaps in pre-pandemic risk factors, as well as changes in labour market inequality nearly one year on. Disabled workers are found to face higher COVID-19-related economic and health risks, including being more likely to work in ‘shutdown’ industries, and in occupations with greater proximity to others and exposure to disease. However, established measures of inequality, including the disability employment and pay gap suggest limited impact of COVID-19 in 2020. Nevertheless, the increase in the probability of being temporarily away from work, even among otherwise comparable workers, is 40% higher for disabled workers and consistent with disproportionate use of the government’s job retention scheme. While the reasons for this are likely to be complex, there is a risk that it will contribute to future disability-related labour market inequality.