A fifth of disabled workers had work from home requests turned down during pandemic

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One in five disabled employees has had their request to work from home, be furloughed or redeployed during the pandemic turned down.

Research by disability charity Scope found that 22% of disabled workers faced having to choose between going to their place of work and quitting their job, and the charity is now calling for the government to give those in the clinically extremely vulnerable category the automatic right to furlough.

Eighteen percent of respondents had been refused a request to work from home, and 11% were not placed on furlough when they asked. Another 11% were told they could not be redeployed into another role.

More than half (55%) said they felt disabled people had been forgotten in the government’s recent economic recovery announcements.

James Taylor, the executive director of strategy at Scope, said the fact the decisions around furlough and redeployment were down to employer discretion meant there was currently “no guarantee” that disabled people would have their jobs and health protected.

“Furlough is a vital safety net for disabled people who don’t feel safe in the workplace, but whose jobs cannot be done from home,” he told the BBC. “If it’s left down to employer discretion, there’s no guarantee disabled people who don’t feel safe will be able to get this protection.”

In response, a Treasury spokesperson said: “Employers must ensure the safety of those with disabilities when considering working arrangements, including whether work can be completed remotely, and it is for employers to decide whether to make use of the furlough scheme.”

The survey also found disparities between different age groups and geographical areas. A third of 18 to 34–year-old disabled workers had been refused a request to work from home, while 20% had been refused redeployment and 15%had been refused furlough.

Disabled workers in London were most likely to be refused their request; almost a third were not able to work from home, while 21% were refused furlough.

Taylor added: “It’s a sad indictment of the attitudes and views towards disability that disabled people are being left with no other option but to quit their job so they can stay safe, or take their chances with a deadly virus. Disabled people’s rights to furlough must be strengthened.

“There is a wealth of evidence which shows many disabled people are bearing the brunt of this pandemic, and it’s growing by the day. Two-thirds of all those who have died from coronavirus were disabled. Many disabled people are more at risk from coronavirus and are extremely worried about what would happen if they were to get it.

“The government has pointed to existing equality legislation to provide this protection, but our latest research shows this is not working. Giving people who are on the clinically extremely vulnerable list the automatic right to furlough will stop people being forced into making impossible choices.

“The government must take action now to stop the disastrous damage coronavirus and its economic fallout are causing to disability employment.”

In September, Scope launched a ‘We Won’t Be Forgotten’ campaign to highlight the ways disabled people have been overlooked by the government during the pandemic. More than 30,000 people have signed an open letter to the government asking for “a new deal for disabled people to show they won’t be forgotten in the government’s recovery plan, and beyond”.

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