There’s a big health and disability employment gap. What can we do about it?
People who are disabled or have a health condition are much less likely to be in work than non-disabled people who don’t have a health condition. Across England and Wales, just 49% of those who are disabled or have a health condition are in work. For everyone else this figure is 80% – this is a 31 percentage point gap. This is a problem that has persisted over the last decade despite recent increases in the overall employment rate.
Recently, the government has outlined an aim to halve this gap by 2020. This ambition is welcome and timely; as the population ages and people work for longer, many more people will need to balance the demands of work and managing a health condition.
Citizens Advice has launched a new programme of research seeking to understand what needs to change to narrow the gap. Today, we publish some initial figures that start to explore why too many people with health conditions who want to work aren’t sufficiently supported to keep their jobs or find new ones.
A complicated set of issues
Although health conditions or impairments make work impossible for some, others can work with the right support. Across England and Wales, there are 6.8 million working age people who are disabled or have a health condition such as depression or arthritis. Of the 3.5 million people in this group who are out of work, 1.4 million are hoping to move into work. To halve the health and disability gap, over a million people will need support to move into or stay in work. This is an enormous and complicated challenge.
People with certain conditions are less likely to get the support they need. For example, conditions that are fluctuating or hidden can be difficult for employers to understand, and the benefit system may not be structured to cater for them. We found that just a third of people (36%) whose main condition is a mental health problem are in work.
Alongside this, some people who are disabled or have a health condition will face numerous additional disadvantages – they may have low qualifications, live in a region where the gap is wide, or work in an industry which has a low employment rate for people with impairments or health conditions. A targeted approach is needed to address these separate, often overlapping issues.
While more needs to be done to get people into work, helping people stay in work is another important part of the puzzle. Our new research also reveals that disabled people or those with a health condition are more than twice as likely to fall out of work in any given year compared with people who are not disabled and do not have a health condition. Helping this group to access the support they need to keep their jobs if they develop a health condition is a pressing challenge.
What we’ll be doing next
Income security is declining and Citizens Advice is currently exploring the impact this has on people’s lives. We are looking at the various factors in the labour market and welfare systems that are contributing to this. As part of this we will be looking in depth at health and work, in recognition that health conditions or impairments can seriously reduce people’s income security.
We want to understand in detail the varied barriers disabled people and those with health conditions face. We will use this to develop ideas for how government and employers can better support disabled people and those with health conditions to move into work or retain the jobs they already have.
Appropriate and timely financial or other support is vital in helping people stay in work or move into it. We’re exploring the different types of support people can currently get through the benefit system, from the government, from their employer and other sources. We’re also speaking to people about their experiences of navigating this support, and mapping their journeys to identify where people are struggling to get the help they need.
Employers and managers have a crucial role to play if we’re to get this right. We’re speaking to employers about their experiences of recruiting and retaining staff who have health conditions or are disabled. We want to know how they support employees who need to balance the demands of their job and their health. Government support for employers is important too, and we’ll be asking how informed they feel they are about what’s available. Another key challenge is the variety of impairments and health conditions that people need to manage in addition to work or their job search. We’ll be doing research to understand how employers perceive different types of health conditions and how that might be impacting their approach to recruitment and supporting employees to stay in work.
Getting over a million people into work is a big task. New approaches need to be taken by government and employers that recognise the importance of this issue, the diversity of challenges people face, and the importance of timely support and well designed jobs.