Media Release

Conservative manifesto drops commitment to halve disability employment gap

SMF senior researcher Matthew Oakley said:

“It is estimated that halving the disability employment gap would require an extra 1.2 million to 1.5 million disabled people to be in employment.

“The lower estimate assumes that there is no corresponding increase in the non-disabled employment rate, while the higher number takes into account both population growth and improvements in the employment rate of non-disabled people.

“This commitment in the new Conservative party manifesto – to get an extra million disabled people into work – essentially means downgrading the ambition to get disabled people into work by between 200,000 to 500,000 people.

“Even this figure assumes that there is no general employment growth in next ten years, which means the gap between the 2015 manifesto commitment and the 2017 version could be even greater.



The gap between employment rates of disabled and non-disabled individuals currently stands at 43 percentage points and has been stuck at around this level for at least 15 years. The 2015 Conservative Manifesto outlined an aim to halve the disability employment gap. As employment levels of non-disabled people increase, so too will the required increase in the number of disabled people entering work.

The figure of 1.2 million disabled people is based on SMF research and the Labour Force Survey, published in ‘Closing The Gap – Creating a framework for tackling the disability employment gap in the UK‘, a report by the SMF’s Matthew Oakley.

The 1.5 million figure appears in ‘Retention deficit’ – a report from the Resolution Foundation published in June 2016.

To speak to Matthew Oakley, please contact SMF communications director David Mills on

SMF work has outlined principles for reforming disability benefits and the support available to disabled people to enter work. See our recent reports here and here.

About Matthew Oakley

Matthew Oakley joined the SMF as Senior Researcher in July 2015. Before joining the SMF Matthew had been Chief Economist and Head of Financial Services Policy at Which?, Head of Economics and Social Policy at Policy Exchange and an Economic Advisor at the Treasury. He has an MSc in Economics from University College London, where he specialised in labour economics and econometrics. Matthew led the Independent Review of Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions that reported to Parliament in 2014 and he was also a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee.

About the SMF

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is a non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. We conduct research and run events looking at a wide range of economic and social policy areas, focusing on economic prosperity, public services and consumer markets. The SMF is resolutely independent, and the range of backgrounds and opinions among our staff, trustees and advisory board reflects this.


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