Government pledges new initiatives to reduce barriers to work for disabled

I welcome the press release announcing the Prime Minister’s support to build further on the “Improving Lives” strategy by committing to new measures to support those with disability.

The new government drive is setting out to tackle the many injustices and barriers faced by those with disabilities in the workplace, as well as at home and in the community.

It recognises an important fact: that around twenty percent of the UK population is living with a disability.

Key elements span a range of important areas, including:

  • a new cross-government team dedicated to disability issues
  • enhanced accessibility standards for new housing
  • an overhaul of statutory sick pay
  • improved workplace support for disabled people

It is collaborative in nature. A new disability team is to be created, with an explicit commitment to work closely with disabled people and the organisations and charities that focus on their needs to ensure that their voice is heard. The strategy also includes new outcomes measures to be collated and published.

Working with the Work and Health Unit

Empactis has continuously supported me in contributing to the Government’s Work and Health Unit’s (WHU) multiple programmes seeking to improve the employment of disabled people and reduce the number of employees that become sick and fall out of work.

The aim of the Unit is to enable one million additional disabled people to remain in or to access work.

For the past eighteen months or more, it has been consulting an expert stakeholder group on how employers can better support disabled workers and improve access to occupational health support.

A new chance for employers to get engaged on employee health

The Prime Minister’s announcement paves the way for a fresh consultation on options. It can particularly focus on ways to enable employers to actively support measures to reduce sickness absence and improve opportunities to enable return to work.

The Council for Work and Health, an organisation I chair, and which represents many of the membership organisations interested in work and health, launched a resource commissioned by the WHU earlier this year. “Talking Work” was designed to help GPs support patients to understand potential work adjustments that could improve access to work.

The new consultation will consult on how workers can be supported to have these conversations with employers.

Better support for positive employee health conversations

My work at Empactis has centred on the crucial role of managers in having positive conversations with their employees. Employers can make a huge difference to their staff, and reduce the impacts that sickness has on their productivity, costs, quality, staff retention and more, simply by making it easier for managers. They need support, not just to have such conversations early with any individual who goes sick, but to be provided with structured contacts that seek to understand work adjustment and rehabilitation needs.

The benefits of this approach can be felt by everyone involved. It is good for the employer, but just as importantly it is good for the employee. It has been proven that being in work directly helps to reduce the probability of future illness and disability.

This positive reinforcement lies at the heart of the Government’s announcement and intention. Improving support for those with long-term health conditions and disability is good for the economy, reduces the strain on our stretched health services and reduces the huge costs associated with long term benefits claims.

You can read a little more about that initiative in our earlier article about “Talking Work”, and I encourage all employers to download the “Talking Work” checklist and work modifications toolkit for some simple but important advice.

I look forward to the Green Paper consultation exercise. I will certainly use all the experience of a career in occupational health alongside our recent work at Empactis in responding, and to supporting the necessary measures to provide better and more timely support to those who become ill and struggle to work.