Manager Dre Bellamy and volunteer Nicola Todd at The Novel Coffee Shop (Photo: Christina Geggus).

Just 52.7% of disabled people are in employment, compared to 81% of non-disabled people, according to government figures.

And of the 4.4m disabled people in employment in 2021, official data shows that most were in low-skilled occupations or working part-time.

Purple, an organisation that works alongside businesses to enable them to better provide opportunities for people with disabilities, has blamed the Universal Credit system for penalising those who would like to work.

The system means payments people receive decrease by 55p for every extra £1 they earn.

Chief executive of Purple Mike Adams says the system is “fundamentally wrong,” and that research has shown that “many disabled people are worse off working than not working.”

Mike believes the government needs to review the system and introduce new ways of incentivising people with disabilities to work.

He adds: “Another key thing that needs be done is to repurpose businesses’ frames of disability.

“There is a huge stigma around hiring disabled people because the international sign is ‘wheelchair’ so immediately employers think of ramps and health and safety, which are expensive.

“These outlooks need to be changed, because 80% of people have hidden disabilities and many businesses don’t realise they could unlock groups of people who have huge potential.

“The more a company shows a progressive culture towards hiring disabled people, the more likely they will have disabled people apply for their jobs.”

One business seeing the benefits of hiring disabled people is charity-run The Phabulous Café in Leigh-On-Sea.

The café was set up to allow people with additional needs and disabilities to develop employability skills that will help them get paid jobs after their training.

Jenny Drewer, 45, owner and manager of The Phabulous Café, says: “The main skill our café gives is confidence plus the belief that people can do it. Just from one shift, they immediately come out of their shells and to watch them grow gives us every faith that they will be able to gain employment after our programme.”

Jenny believes more employers should be open to hiring disabled people.

“People with disabilities and those with additional needs may need more time to pick up things, but employers should not be put off by this,” she says.

Capping the number of hours people with disabilities and additional needs can work – by taking more of what they earn if they increase their hours – is also detrimental, she adds.

“The more hours they can work, the better. There is so many social benefits to working and so many benefits to employers.”

Jenny hopes to open up another café in the area, where they will be able hire their volunteers and offer them paid work.

Christopher Howarth, 22, works at The Phabulous Café, and is hopeful about his chances of gaining employment when he has finished his training.

“I love working here,” he says. “I really enjoy all the different tasks I have to do, as well as chatting with customers and my colleagues.

“I’ve become so much more confident too, I used to struggle to remember customers orders and never want to go back to their table. Now I’m happy to go back and ask again.

“I really hope I find another job when I finish my training here and college. I want to get a paid job and be able live independently when I am older.”

Novel Coffee Shop, in Southend-on-Sea, also offers opportunities for people with disabilities, and has 13 volunteers with disabilities or learning disabilities who help run the café.

Manager Dre Bellamy, 42, is keen to provide more paid opportunities for disabled people.

“I would love to pay our volunteers, but as a charity we can’t afford that. We also face the issue with Universal Credit,” she explains.

“We have a volunteer who comes in every Thursday who has autism, but is extremely able. We really wanted offer him a paid role, but he has another job elsewhere. He can’t be paid any more money, otherwise he will lose his Universal Credit payments.”

Dre hopes that the government will do more to help businesses take on people with disabilities and thinks the solution is to reach out to charities.

“There are so many charities and volunteering organisations who have banks of people with disabilities and learning difficulties who would love jobs.”

The Department for Work and Pensions has been contacted for comment.