The holidays are not good cheer for everyone. Caring, looking after children and relatives and managing a condition, let alone a mental health condition, when there is a social expectation to have a “Happy Christmas” and a “Happy New Year” can push people into crises. And then there’s the incessant fireworks during the new year period which, for people with trauma, sensory sensitivities, or anxiety, is something else to dread and fear so closely after firework night just a month earlier. In fact, the Samaritans even launched new services just to prepare for the ‘festive’ period and you may have seen various heart-wrenching media stories about people ending their lives over the Christmas period. For some, many even, it is just too much.
You may think this is a gloomy read to start the new year! But we are looking to 2022 to bring some resolutions to some of the outstanding decisions that together impact the health, happiness, and many people’s ability to enjoy the holidays when they next come.
Carers and flexible working
Around 13.6 million households have been helping someone with basic daily living tasks such as cooking, eating, washing, getting up, going to bed, and getting dressed during the last year. We still await the Government’s response to the carer’s leave consultation, but the Government have been clear that reforming flexible working is an extension of looking to support the millions of working carers in employment. We are not convinced (actually, working carers in our member organisations told us) that flexible working is the ‘golden bullet’ solution that Government and employers think it is. We have recommended that decisions and frameworks for supporting carers and flexible working are brought in line with the structure for deciding what is reasonable in the context of making reasonable adjustments. We hope to hear the outcome of both consultations within the first half of this year. We have started a Supporting Working Carers Forum where we have started uncovering the issues and the effective solutions that employers can implement.
Mandatory disability data reporting
Following campaigning pressure and critique from the Work and Pensions Committee on the relative non-movement of the disability employment gap, the Government is consulting on whether to mandate employers to report on the number of disabled people they employ (in organisations of over 250 employees). It is a complex issue, which touches on data collection methods, and the language of disability and conditions used in organisations compared with the identities we choose and live by in our personal lives. It is too easy to refer to gender prevalence and pay gap reporting as a comparator, particularly as the ‘jury is out’ even on whether this has been successful (or even useful) at an individual organisation level. In addition, the conversation on mandating disability reporting has so far been predominantly with disability charities, employers, and academics. There is a loud silence on views from disabled employees. We are currently undergoing polling and data collection with our employee forums and working groups to help understand how disabled people in our member organisations feel about this practice being introduced. Initial feedback is very mixed. We will be representing those views in our consultation responses and research. Our Disability Data Monitoring Working Group started in December and will run monthly for the next four months.
Shaping future support – work and benefits
The ‘turn off’ for employers with the Government’s “Shaping Future Support” consultation is that it was predominantly pitched as being about welfare and benefits. Really, it was. But long gone is the time when the benefits, work, and health settings could be seen in isolation to one another. Our polling with disabled employees showed that Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are being used to ‘upgrade’ aids and adaptations provided by the NHS to a version more suitable to workplace conditions – wheelchairs, cars adaptations, hearing aids, and limb support equipment (such as cuffs, splints, and medical sleeves). The paper also hosts the proposal (which someone I spoke to referred to as a “threat”) that disabled people will be able to exchange their PIP for aids, equipment, and services – items that are currently (or should be) already available to us on the NHS. When the Government’s response to this consultation arrives, look out for changes to Access to Work, revisions to the Disability Confident Scheme, and further (disability specific, we hope) investment Job Centres. We also need more attention on and access to occupational therapy services in the work and health settings, but the consultation confused occupational therapy with occupational health. We are waiting to see the Government’s response to these many issues – many of which are keeping disabled people living in anxiety every day.
Statutory sick pay
We are desperately looking to the Government for its next move on reforming sick pay. This particularly affects people working in organisations of any size who only offer statutory sick pay. As the Government has not moved on it, we are seeing many sick pay policies where, if the employer does not offer a contractual entitlement on top of the statutory rate, employees will consider moving to an employer who does. As a result, enhanced or contractual sick pay really is an area of support candidates look for in ‘benefits’ packages when looking for which organisations to apply for jobs with. As the NHS is ever more stretched, people’s sick pay often runs out before they are seen by NHS services, leaving employees financially disadvantaged while being unwell, and potentially falling out of work for a lengthy period of time.
Loneliness is a public health issue which employers may look to include in their social inclusion agendas, both for their own workforces and also by considering how their organisations can help disrupt chronic loneliness in the communities in which they operate. The Government’s Loneliness Strategy, published some three years or ago, is not an inclusive one. It promises to connect people to local activities and community groups, regardless of the continued fact that many of these are not accessible or designed with disabled people in mind. In any case, the Strategy was launched before we were hit with the pandemic, and loneliness has taken on a new meaning for so many more people. With loneliness increasingly being seen as an urgent public health issue, employers should be considering how they tackle loneliness in their organisations for their workers, particularly as health issues can lead to absences, presentism, early death through illness, and increased acquired disabilities.
For more information or to get involved in our policy work, get in touch at email@example.com