Disabled people in the UK rely on entrepreneurial spirit - Photo by Yomex-Owo on UnsplashRouzbeh Pirouz is Co-Founder and Senior Partner at London-based Pelican Partners, a real estate and private equity investment firm. He is passionate about empowering disabled people in business.

More than 14.1 million people in the UK live with disabilities. According to the Family Resources Survey, one in five people will be affected in some way by disability during their lives.

On a global level, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that more than a billion people are affected by disabilities. Furthermore, there are 220 million young people, between 15 and 24, with disabilities. Just under 80% of them live in developing countries.

When it comes to employment, even in 2021, there’s a stark difference in rates between disabled and non-disabled workers. So, it’s unsurprising that disabled people everywhere are tapping into the entrepreneurial spirit to reach their potential.

Why the entrepreneurial spirit is vital for disabled people

By the age of 26, disabled people living in the UK are four times more likely than other people to be out of work. T Burchardt published a study called The education and employment of disabled young people: Frustrated ambition. It claims that just under a quarter of employers are less likely to employ a disabled person.

Why is this? Many employers cite the perceived costs of making adjustments for disabled people. Two-thirds of employers give this as a reason for choosing not to employ disabled people, according to a 2018 survey of line managers by Leonard Cheshire.

The UK Government published a White Paper in 2019 to understand self-employment and entrepreneurial barriers for disabled people. It was in response to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) admitting they had little information to go on. While it’s surprising to learn that the Government had so little data on disabled people who work for themselves, the report shows interesting information.

High levels of self-employed within the disabled community

There are more self-employed disabled people proportionally than within than the general population. This is out of necessity in many cases. Start-ups and businesses run by disabled people are often sole start-ups. They are usually run from home rather than an office (pre-COVID) and are more likely to lack a long-term growth plan.

However, self-employment and unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit are important for disabled people. There is now a widespread acceptance of working from home due to the pandemic. It has shifted outdated attitudes across many business sectors.  This has opened doors for disabled people with entrepreneurial ambitions.

The flexibility provided by entrepreneurialism and self-employment are hugely important for the disabled workforce in the UK. Millions of people are now experiencing what it’s like to be cut off from all kinds of resources and networks due to the pandemic. We can assume that attitudes across the board may finally be changing.

Government findings on challenges faced by disabled entrepreneurs

Many support organisations and disabled individuals feel self-employment is the only option. The Government’s report shows that a high proportion of disabled people feel that traditional workplaces are inaccessible.

It’s critical to understand the perceived choices available for disabled people. There are those who become self-employed out of necessity and those who are genuinely passionate about a specific business idea. Challenges facing self-employed disabled entrepreneurs are, of course, no different to any self-employed person. For example, finding funding or accessing finance. There are clearly several challenges that face disabled people only. According to the UK Government, these include:

  • Lack of confidence: Some disabled people say that previous experiences with employers have damaged their confidence. They are self-consciousness and struggle to articulate their worth to potential clients.
  • Fluctuating conditions: Many disabled people live with conditions that cause periods of pain, poor mental health and fatigue. There are also challenges related with meeting expectations and managing workload.
  • Accessing finance: Disabled self-employed people face more challenges than others when securing funding.

More support needed across the board for disabled entrepreneurs

There is growing awareness that disabled entrepreneurs need more support across the board. This includes from Governments and the private sector. There is a clear demand for consistent and accessible support for disabled entrepreneurs. This differs from support available to the self-employed sector.

That’s where programmes like the Stelios Awards for Disabled Entrepreneurs come in. This scheme is jointly run by the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity and EasyJet founder Stelios Hahi-Ioannou. Prize money totals £100,000 per year, with the top award at £30,000.

Winners in 2019 include Steve Hoyler for Adi Access RoomMate. The RoomMate is a wall-mounted device that helps blind and visually impaired people access toilets with audio description. Five other individuals in the top five each received £10,000.

This competition is currently on hold due to the pandemic. And prize money is currently going directly to frontline carers. Once COVID-19 is finally under control in the UK this scheme will be back to support talented disabled entrepreneurs.

Change is needed to unleash the potential of the disabled workforce in the UK

In reality, the difference in employment rates between disabled people and the rest of the population is too high. Rates still stand at around 30%. It has changed very little over the last ten years.

Schemes launched over the last few years, such as ‘Disability Confident’, have had limited success. This scheme is specifically for employers, but there has been little uptake. According to some critics, companies have been put off by the paperwork and lack of support.

Disabled people typically attend far more interviews with employers who can’t see their potential, no matter how sparkling their track record. After decades of this, it’s no wonder that disabled people choose to use their talents as entrepreneurs instead. And while some of the ensuing businesses are targeted at the disabled community, such as the award winner mentioned above, many are for the mass market.

Channelling the entrepreneurial spirit of the millions of disabled people around the world will only benefit the global economy and help break down barriers. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that entrepreneurialism and self-employment aren’t for everyone, disabled or not. Instead, we need to get to a world where disabilities truly don’t get in the way for people who want to work. And this means that businesses run by disabled entrepreneurs are always, just like those run by the rest of the population, passion projects for those with big ideas and ambitions.

Pelican PartnersPelican Partners invests in private equity transactions across different sectors that meet its criteria for superior returns in areas that the Firm believes represent extraordinary growth potential.

In the United Kingdom, Pelican Partners is focused on commercial property opportunities. Current and previous holdings include retail centres and hotels.

Pelican Partners also invests in the capital markets both in the UK and internationally across various assets classes including equities, commodities and fixed income that have demonstrated the potential for consistent value generation over an extended period of time. The Firm’s investment philosophy is based on fundamental analysis and is value oriented.


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