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Massive disability pay gap at Sheffield Uni; Hallam Uni’s is below national average

EXCLUSIVE: A data request from Now Then shows that disabled staff at University of Sheffield are paid £6,272 less per year than their non-disabled colleagues, although both city unis have a disability pay gap.

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Sheffield's two universities make it the ideal city to be a retrofit Centre of Excellence.

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Life is generally far more expensive for disabled people, who spend on average, £550 a month on disability-related expenditure. This is thanks to additional costs like mobility equipment, needing to buy pre-prepared food or take more taxis, and contributions to social care support. In addition, disabled people are more likely to live in poverty, which is a particular concern as the cost-of-living crisis looms over us all. And when you need to plug in a ventilator or when your body can’t regulate its own temperature, the fuel crisis will also have a greater impact on many disabled people.

With this in mind, and inspired by gender pay gap statistics, I wanted to know what the pay gap between disabled people and non-disabled people was like. Looking at two major employers in Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University and University of Sheffield, Now Then submitted a Freedom of Information request to find out how well disabled members of staff are paid compared to their non-disabled colleagues.

The results were shocking, and University of Sheffield disabled staff came out of it far worse than disabled Hallam staff did. Looking at the numbers for 2019, 2020 and 2021, the median disability pay gap for University of Sheffield was 19.2%, whereas for Sheffield Hallam University it was 2.9%.

Sheffield Hallam University
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To calculate the disability pay gap at both Sheffield universities, I used the government’s guidance on calculating the gender pay gap; all employers of more than 250 staff are now legally required to report their gender pay gap to the government. There was a campaign for similar reporting on the disability pay gap to be reported.

Notably, the University of Sheffield disability pay gap is worse than the national average of 13.8% in 2021, whereas Hallam Uni’s is considerably lower.

There are two main ways to calculate average salaries to get accurate pay gap reporting: you can get a mean average or a median average. The Financial Times recommends calculating pay gaps using the median figures, which is the salary at the organisation where 50% of staff earn more than that salary and 50% earn less.

Explaining their reasoning (though referring to the gender pay gap, not the disability pay gap), FT says:

The highest-paid staffers earn significantly more than the lowest paid, so the mean, or average, tends to be much higher than the median. If Amazon founder Jeff Bezos walked into a room, the “average” person in the room would become a millionaire when measured by the mean.

Because there are generally fewer women in higher-paying roles than men, the gender pay gap as measured by mean earnings is often higher than for median earnings.

As a result, the FT uses the median in most instances because it is closest to the experience of the typical man and the typical woman.

Close the Gap agrees, saying, “From a purely statistical standpoint, the median is considered to be a more accurate measure as it is not skewed by very low hourly pay or very high hourly pay”, though the organisation does recommend measuring the mean averages as well as it reflects the dramatic difference between the very highly paid staff and the very low-paid staff.

With that in mind, the median average disability pay gap from 2019 – 2021 at Sheffield Hallam University was 2.9%, while at University of Sheffield it was 19.2%. Disabled staff at Hallam were paid on average £34,978 and non-disabled staff were paid £36,024. At University of Sheffield, disabled staff were paid £26,351 and non-disabled staff averaged £32,623.

At University of Sheffield, that’s a difference of £6,272 a year.

Looking at the mean averages, the disability pay gap was higher at Sheffield Hallam Uni than when looking at the median averages, whereas University of Sheffield’s was lower. Hallam Uni’s average mean disability pay gap between 2019 – 2021 was 6.4%; University of Sheffield’s was 18.1%.

In terms of how many staff are disabled at each university, the proportions are very similar. In 2021, 7% of Sheffield Hallam Uni staff were disabled (a total of 301) and 93% were non-disabled (a total of 3994). At Uni of Sheffield, 7.3% of staff that year were disabled (524 people) and 92.7% were non-disabled (6632 people). Figures for 2019 and 2020 were much the same.

University of sheffield information commons ic
Rachel Rae Photography

Ian Wright, Director of Human Resources at the University of Sheffield, told Now Then:

Following the launch of our new disability strategy and action plan in Spring this year, we have already made a number of improvements to how we support disabled staff and students.

The strategy and action plan was created in consultation with our disabled staff and students and sets out a range of ways we will continue to remove barriers to staff inclusion and progression, help us to understand and address the current pay disparity, and create a campus of inclusion and success for all.

We know we still have work to do in this area and this is a priority for the University.

Sheffield Hallam University told Now Then:

Sheffield Hallam University is an inclusive employer and is one of only two employers in Sheffield to achieve Disability Confident Leader status.

The University is committed to reducing its disability pay gap. This includes identifying any barriers which might prevent disabled staff from progressing and also ensuring that staff are supported in their development if they want to progress.

We know that some staff have not declared that they have a disability which will impact on these numbers. Increasing the number of declarations is something we are currently addressing. We are also working with Spark, our disabled staff network, to understand more about the experiences of disabled staff.

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