UK urged to level up support for disabled entrepreneurs

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

Major systemic changes are needed to make UK entrepreneurship more equitable, accessible, and inclusive for disabled founders, according to a new report from Small Business Britain, supported by Lloyds Bank, which found disabled entrepreneurs face significant barriers to start and grow businesses.

The ‘Disability and Entrepreneurship report’ – which consulted over 500 disabled and neurodiverse founders across the UK – revealed an abundance of inbuilt entrepreneurial skill and ambition among this cohort, with 35 per cent saying their disability has positively impacted them as an entrepreneur. However, the report also highlighted significant hurdles are holding founders back, including higher start-up costs, challenges accessing funding and support, as well as a lack of credit by wider society.

With at least a quarter of entrepreneurs estimated to be disabled or neurodiverse, over half (56 per cent) said they encountered no external support when starting up their businesses, 72 per cent said they had lacked appropriate role models to guide them and 55 per cent received no financial support.  This follows earlier research showing that 84 per cent of disabled founders don’t feel they have equal access to the same opportunities and resources as non-disabled founders.

The report also found that many disabled entrepreneurs start businesses for reasons unconnected with disability; 51 per cent were keen to be their own boss and 53 per cent were motivated to turn a passion into a business. A high proportion regarded skills developed through their lived experience of disability – such as agility, creativity, resilience and problem-solving – as great entrepreneurial assets and deserving of more recognition by society, seeing their role as founders first and foremost rather than seeing disability first.

Yet, many talked of having to leap into entrepreneurship earlier than ideal, due to difficulties running a venture alongside employment, as well as shouldering additional costs, such as assistive equipment.  On average disabled people face £583 of additional living costs per month, an issue that has only been heighted by the cost-of-living crisis.

A lack of accessibility was also highlighted across the small business support landscape. And this comes amid fears that progress seen during the pandemic – when work, training and events moved online and became multi-channel – is being reversed with the return to more face-to-face activity.

“The economic benefits of sparking Britain’s diverse entrepreneurial fire are endless, but within the current ecosystem, the glaring reality of less support, opportunity and success remains too palpable to ignore. Disabled entrepreneurs contribute almost 10 per cent of GDP to the UK economy so I regularly say, this is what we’ve achieved working against an exclusive and discriminatory system. Imagine what we could achieve with it on our side,” said Joseph Williams, co-founder and CEO of inclusive hiring platform Clu. 

“Disabled founders are not a small cohort, but a huge economic force for the UK,” said Michelle Ovens CBE, Founder, Small Business Britain. “We urgently need to make sure that support gets to all entrepreneurs to deliver on the return to growth the economy so urgently needs.”

“These entrepreneurs have rightly called out the barriers in place to their progress that come from even the smallest detail– the contrast of a website, the density of text, through to the need to attend in person. We need to do far more to level the playing field, and ensure the thriving entrepreneurial spirit seen across the disabled entrepreneurship community is empowered, supported, and maximised.”

With the Government launching its ‘Transforming Support: Health and Disability White Paper’ at the Spring Budget, the report calls for further action focused on disabled entrepreneurs to empower this cohort of the entrepreneurial community to reach their full potential and unlock UK growth opportunities.

Pointing to a series of recommendations, Small Business Britain and Lloyds Bank suggest an overhaul in the accessibility and inclusivity of support offered across the small business landscape, encompassing everything from programme design and mode of delivery, to language and look and feel of content. The need to tackle stigma, and ensure that entrepreneurship is a positive choice, not a last resort because employers cannot accommodate the needs of workers, is also highlighted.

  • Greater support to help founders access funding particularly at start-up stage, especially targeted at easing some of the extra cost burdens disabled and neurodiverse founders face.
  • A collective focus on redesigning the entrepreneurial experience to be more accessible and equal, at each stage of the journey, from start-up, to scaling, and growth.
  • Increased consultation of disabled founders when designing all aspects of support 
  • Maximising accessible design – at all stages from the promotion of support to information gathering, sign up processes and programme design and delivery.
  • A drive to connect disabled entrepreneurs with relevant mentors. 
  • Celebrating and championing entrepreneurs and role models in the disabled community, to build broader recognition and understanding across society.

David Oldfield, Interim Group Chief Operating Officer at Lloyds Banking Group and Executive Sponsor for Disability, Mental Health & Neurodiversity, said: “With a quarter of all entrepreneurs estimated to have a disability or neurodiverse condition, it’s clear why it is so important we do more to create systemic change in collaboration with our external partners, industry bodies and government. I’m immensely proud that we’ve taken this key first step to better understand the barriers we, and society more broadly, are putting in front of disabled entrepreneurs, and to celebrate the skills and strengths that they bring, given how important entrepreneurs are to the UK’s future prosperity.”

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024