·         Over 9 in 10 SMEs don’t know the rights that the Equality Act 2010 gives to disabled employees 

·         Sales, HR and education among sectors least aware of disability legal protections 

·         93% of SMEs want more training and education about disability employment law 

Despite ambitious government policies to get a million disabled people into work over the next ten years, the latest ONS data shows a miniscule 5% increase since the 2017 goal, which would only see a total of merely 5,800 disabled people in work by 2027 if the pattern continues.

In light of the disability employment issue, a new survey of UK SME owners conducted by Bolt Burdon Kemp revealed a shocking 95% of respondents don’t know the legal rights of disabled employees.

Disability employment hindered by overall lack of knowledge 

The Equality Act 2010 was created to guarantee fair and just treatment for employees. Its aim was also to reduce socio-economic inequalities, reduce discrimination and harassment based on personal characteristics (like race, gender, sexuality or disability), and improve protections for workers.

In a multiple-choice, ‘tick any that apply’ question, the new survey asked SMEs to identify the protections that the Act gives to disabled workers. The possible answers included three of the key protections granted to disabled workers as well as two incorrect options. Only 5% of SMEs were able to correctly identify all three of the protections granted to disabled without picking any of the incorrect answers provided. The rest of respondents demonstrated a lack of knowledge of the regulations in various degrees:

·         22% partially identified the Equality Act protections

·         41% misidentified the Equality Act protections

·         9% couldn’t identify ant Equality Act protections

·         23% answered ‘don’t know’

Sales and HR among the least knowledgeable sectors on disability rights 

In terms of industry split, sales, the legal sector and HR are the least knowledgeable sectors when it comes to disabled employees’ rights, while finance, retail and IT are best at correctly identifying disability employment protections. Nevertheless, the percentage of respondents fully aware of the legislation remains low across all small business sectors:

·         Finance – 8.3% identified all three correct answers

·         Retail – 7.8%

·         IT – 7.5%

·         Arts – 2.9%

·         HR – 0%

·         Sales – 0%

·         Legal – 0%

Urgent call for disability rights training and education for employers 

Given their poor performance in identifying disability employment rights, it’s unsurprising that 93% of SMEs respondents stated they want more training and education about disability employment law. Out of these respondents, over half (55.5%) state that the government needs to do more with regards to education and training.

The study revealed lack of knowledge and training as a common theme across SMEs:

-A shocking 42% say they have no training in disability employment law.
-2 in 5 SMEs (40%) state that they don’t have enough knowledge of disability employment law, with 1 in 5 (20%) SMEs with less than 10 employees saying so.
-Encouragingly, only one in ten SMEs believe their HR department isn’t conversant enough in disability employment law, although this figure rises to two in ten (20%) when narrowed down to SMEs with 10-49 employees.

SMEs less likely to employ people with brain injuries 

With the government’s Access to Work scheme thus far not specifying brain injuries as an individual disability (although brain injuries like cerebral palsy and epilepsy are specified in the latest report from the Department for Work & Pensions), it’s difficult to assess how many people with brain injuries currently make up the disability workforce.

According to the new survey findings, only 4% of SMEs employ someone with a brain injury. In comparison, the numbers are much more encouraging for disabilities such as depression or anxiety (55.5%), chronic pain or fatigue (37.0%) and learning disabilities (24.7%).

For a full overview of the study please visit:


[Methodology] This research was conducted in partnership with Censuswide between 31.05.2019 – 06.06.2019, asking 501 SME owners in the UK about their approach to disability employment. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.