Epilepsy, employment and pay gaps

Published: April 29 2021
Last updated: September 28 2022

Only a third (34%) of people with epilepsy are in employment and those in work are paid on average 11.8% less than non-disabled people, the Work and Pensions Select Committee heard yesterday.

The Select Committee, held on 28 April, involved 11 MPs speaking to a number of organisations, including Epilepsy Action, about the disability employment gap. Select Committees consider policy issues and government work, and look at proposals for new legislation. The Work and Pensions Select Committee is currently carrying out an inquiry into the disability employment gap, and will publish a report with its conclusions.

Epilepsy Action shared findings from research conducted by the Institute of Employment Studies on employment support for people with epilepsy. The charity also gave evidence on the first-hand experiences of people with epilepsy.

The organisation raised the need for specific targeted support to help people with epilepsy find and stay in work. Current support schemes have fallen short, Epilepsy Action explained, as employment rates for people with epilepsy have fallen from around four in 10 people (42%) in employment in 2008 to around three in 10 (34%) in 2021. The disability employment gap has also remained at around 30% since 2013, with around half of disabled people in employment (52.3%) compared to over four in five non-disabled people (81.1%).

Epilepsy Action said this shows a need to reform existing employment schemes and introduce mandatory reporting on the disability employment and disability pay gaps.

The barriers for people with epilepsy getting and staying in work, including a lack of understanding of the condition among employers,were also raised with MPs. The effects of the pandemic were also shared with the committee. Epilepsy Action explained that people with epilepsy who could work from home, found this beneficial, while those who couldn’t reported more stress and anxiety.

Daniel Jennings, senior policy and campaigns officer at Epilepsy Action, who spoke at the Select Committee, said: “This was a great opportunity to speak to MPs about the specific problems people with epilepsy face around employment. We can see that not only are people with epilepsy less likely to have a paid job than their non-disabled peers, but when they do, they earn less. From previous surveys, we know that more than one in four employees in the UK would be wary of working with a colleague who has epilepsy. We also know that a majority of UK employers would not know how to help a co-worker having a seizure.

“Many of the existing employment support schemes, especially those launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, are far too generic. They don’t include specific support for people with epilepsy and those with other disabilities. Mandatory reporting on the disability employment gap is needed, including reporting for specific conditions to help identify where there are specific employment problems.

“Epilepsy Action will continue to call for improvements to the employment support available for people with epilepsy. As well as reforming the current support available, it is also vital that the Government better communicates the support available. Often the emphasis is on people with epilepsy to ask about these schemes but if they are not aware of them it is impossible to ask about them.

“More support is also needed to help people stay in work once they are in employment. Currently the only scheme targeted at job retention is Access to Work, and in many cases this scheme is too slow at providing support. In addition, we believe that Access to Work support should be made available when people are looking for work. Not only would this help people get into work, but it would also ensure that support is in place when people start work.”

Epilepsy Action offers online and face-to-face training around seizure first-aid, and has recently launched an employer toolkit designed to help support employees with epilepsy in the workplace.

The Select Committee evidence session is available to view on the UK parliament website.