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Yesterday, the UK government took a great stride towards closing the disability employment gap with the publication of the “Improving Lives” green paper which aims to revolutionise the current approach to benefits and employment supports for people living with disabilities and other health conditions. This reform is being led by Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green, who aims to bring a "personalised" approach to both the employment supports and the welfare system.
The move is well-timed, as less than half (48%) of people with disabilities are in employment compared to 80% of the general population - a difference of 32%. As Mr Green says, “A disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life – or in the workplace. What should count are a person’s talents and their determination and aspiration to succeed.”
According to the green paper, 4.6 million people with disabilities and people with long-term health conditions are out of work. This has disquieting consequences not just for the individual but also for the entire country. The cost of working age ill health is around £100 billion a year, and over 60% of those on benefits are living with a disability or health condition.
NHS England’s Chief Executive Simon Stevens has underlined the fact that “early treatment for mental and physical health problems helps working age adults get and keep well–paying jobs - and this, in turn, positively improves their own health and social wellbeing.” Having access to employment is therefore critical to the quality of life of millions of people.
The consultation follows the announcement that people with severe conditions will no longer face reassessments for their benefits. This is fantastic news, as some people with on-going conditions were re-assessed as often as every 3 months. The onus was also entirely on the person with disability or health condition to fight for benefits, adding increased difficulty to the lives of millions.
Popular awareness about disabled workers’ rights has been rising. As was highlighted by the recent film I, Daniel Blake, which won the Palme D’Or at Cannes this year, the current process of work capability assessment is strangled by red tape. This makes it extremely difficult for people with disabilities and health conditions to successfully receive the benefits they need to survive. Like many people with disabilities or health conditions, Daniel wants to work but can’t due to a heart condition and yet he is completely at the mercy of the judgements of a healthcare professional and decision-maker who are working with an outdated and one-size-fits all approach to assessing the individual’s ability to work. Consequently, Damian Green’s dedication to bringing about a more personal approach, tailored to each individual is a welcome change.
Just 8% of employers report they have recruited a person with a disability or long-term health condition over a year. The government will be investing £115 million of funding to develop new models of support designed to help people into work when they are managing a long-term health condition or disability.
And there are key benefits on offer for employers who embrace the change in workplace culture this will foster. Employers will have access to a wider pool of talent and skills if they have inclusive and disability-friendly recruitment, retention and progression policies, and may also be able to serve their customer base more effectively. A more inclusive representation in the workplace will help customers with similar disabilities or health conditions,benefitting the employee, employer and customer alike.
In order to accomplish this, the Public Sector intends to lead by example. The Public Sector already runs a variety of programmes like occupational health support, online cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling support and the Civil Service reasonable adjustments service.
They aim to ensure public sector employers monitor and review their recruitment, sickness, absence and wellbeing activities and take action where issues are identified.
By the end of the year they will ensure that all government departments are signed up as being Disability Confident which is a campaign that challenges negative attitudes to disability and disability employment and aims to help disabled people achieve their potential.
The government also intends to tackle the stigma associated with disability and illness. Currently UK employers are not required to know the details about disability or sickness in their workforce and the green paper outlines plans to change this, such as providing and publicising guidance for employers on how they can best support their employees. The guidance is likely to include case studies, examples of reasonable adjustments and awareness sessions. There are also plans to establish a Disability Confident Business Leaders Group which will work alongside ministers and officials to increase employer engagement around disabled employment, starting with FTSE 250 companies.
Damian Green has promised that no new welfare savings are being sought through this Green Paper, which will hopefully alleviate any fears that people with disabilities or health conditions will be pushed out of welfare and into employment if that does not align with their aspirations or abilities. By excluding people with disabilities and those with health conditions from the employment pool, employers miss out on valuable skills, health services bear the additional costs and everyone suffers. This is not to mention the effect it has on the individual and their families.
At CSG, we’ve long felt that as a society we need to change the conversation around illness and disability to stop excluding people to detriment of their quality of life. “Improving Lives” will hopefully mark the beginning of a growing trend towards more inclusion for people with disabilities or health conditions and a working culture which represents and includes everybody.