Employers are wasting millions of pounds because they fail to use all the skills and qualifications of their staff, a study has warned.
The Sector Skills Development Agency has criticised employers for not making the best use of large sections of the UK workforce.
Its study also found most people from ethnic minority groups were less well paid than their white counterparts.
The average hourly earning for white men was £9.03, but fell to £6.74 for Pakistani men, with differences in personal characteristics or education not enough to explain the gap.
In 2002, disabled people had an employment rate of around 48 per cent compared to 81 per cent for non-disabled people, said the agency.
Disabled people were more likely to be employed in manual occupations and had lower average earnings, even, again, after taking age, education and occupation into account.
Although the gender pay gap was narrowing, the gap in the highest occupations seemed to be getting worse, said the SSDA.
Women’s basic hourly earnings were 82 per cent that of men, and 72 per cent among managers and senior administrators.
Women also received less training and reported that the skills they did have were under-utilised by their employers.
Fears that jobs were being taken by a flood of refugees and immigrants appeared to be ill-founded, the study suggested.
A total of 29 per cent of refugees were working in September 2001, compared with 60 per cent of ethnic minorities in the general population. The work they did and sought was often not commensurate with their skills
A high proportion of people, some two million, who were currently economically inactive, would be able to work if certain barriers were removed, the study reported.
Professor Mike Campbell, SSDA director of strategy and research, said: “We know that many employers suffer from skills gaps and skills shortages which affect their profits and productivity.
He added: “This research shows that the skills they need might well be out there - we just need to look in the right place, or think a bit more creatively about how we can get people in to the labour market.”