Poverty and disability in the UK: the potential impact of Brexit

Rain

By Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive Officer, Business Disability Forum

In my third and final blog in our series on poverty and disability in the UK, I look at the very topical issue of Brexit and its potential impact.

I have written these blogs to coincide with the UN Rapporteur on Extreme poverty and Human rights’ current visit to the UK. The implications of Brexit on poverty is a key issue that the rapporteur has been considering during his two-week long visit. Business Disability Forum was one of the organisations asked to submit evidence on this and other issues affecting income levels of disabled people to Philip Alston ahead of the trip.

At the time of publishing, the Brexit negotiations seem to be in ever more turmoil. Given this, and how much is at stake, we questioned our timing for this blog, but felt that whilst the bigger picture remains deeply uncertain, it’s vital that we continue to represent the rights of disabled people and ensure that they do not become a casualty of this uncertainty.

It should also be noted that our concerns over Brexit, expressed here, do not relate to the decision to leave the European Union. On this we remain neutral. Instead it is the unintended consequences of the mechanisms being used as part of the Brexit process which have and continue to concern us and many other disability and human rights groups.

Here is what we said.

 

The impact of Brexit legislation on accessibility

Research undertaken by Business Disability Forum in February 2018 showed 39 per cent of businesses feel there would be no change to disability related legislation post-Brexit, and 47 per cent did not feel Brexit would have any impact on disabled people’s opportunities[1].

We are concerned, however, that this may well not be the case should the Trade Bill 2017-19 (currently, at time of writing, at the House of Lords Committee stage) complete its journey through parliament without the addition of significant safeguards.

As it stands, the Bill currently allows ministers to change a wide range of laws without Parliamentary scrutiny in order to implement international trade agreements. One of the Acts affected by this is the Equality Act 2010, which secures many rights for disabled people.

Without safeguards added, the Trade Bill will, for example, permit specific aspects of the Equality Act 2010 to be immediately suspended should accessibility requirements make doing trade deals difficult. In effect, it could allow accessibility for disabled people to become an optional, disposable element of any contract the UK enters into if it would further trade. Such wide ranging powers to change primary legislation by the Executive and without Parliamentary scrutiny is unprecedented and hugely concerning. The current Government has provided assurances that protections enshrined in law for over twenty years will be protected but we cannot be sure that such assurances will be respected by any future Government. Rights this important must be protected by our democratic processes and any changes scrutinised by elected representatives of the people including disabled people.

 

Wider context

Why are we highlighting such a seemingly technical point such as the potential effect on vehicle accessibility regulations of the Trade Bill in the midst of all the many difficult aspects of the Brexit negotiations? Trade is of course vital to the future prosperity of the UK and we are not suggesting that the country’s ability to enter into good trade deals should in any way be hampered. What we are saying is that no agreement post Brexit or at any time should be at the expense of the rights of some of the most disadvantaged people in our country. The UK has been a leader in protecting the rights of disabled people and now is not the time to allow any roll back on that leadership role or to allow anyone else to do so in the future.

The Trade Bill is completing its passage through parliament, at a time when UK-wide scrutiny into disabled people’s experiences of public transport has found that disabled people are already greatly disadvantaged by the standard of public transport in the UK. Since 2013, Select Committees and All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) in the UK[2] have looked at the competence of transport to meet the needs of people with disabilities in the UK. In addition, the Department for Transport also led a major consultation on accessible transport this year, which led to the publication of the UK’s ‘Inclusive Transport Strategy: Achieving Equal Access for Disabled People’ in August.

 

The effect of inaccessible transport on employment and poverty

 The Government recognised the barrier that inaccessible transport represents to disabled people getting and staying in work, in its ‘Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability’ strategy[3].

Feedback from Business Disability Forum members and partners shows that workplace adjustments related to transport (for example, travelling to work, and travelling to meetings, or between ever-growing ‘multi-sited’ workplaces) are some of the most commonly requested adjustments we see employers making for employees, due to them experiencing difficulties with inaccessible or a lack or inclusive travel. These are matters we are trying to address through our current Going Places campaign.

We have also seen an increased number of calls to our Advice Service since Access to Work, the UK Government’s scheme for providing funding support to businesses to help cover the cost of adjustments, decreased funding available to cover transport-related support for disabled employees. In these cases, employees have had to have some of their work duties reallocated to another employee, change roles completely, or even reduce their hours.

 

Social isolation

But it is not only access to employment opportunities which is affected by the availability of accessible transport, but social inclusion generally. Without suitable transport on offer, disabled people are at greater risk of social isolation as they become cut off from vital networks and community and healthcare services.

They are also less able to access shops and businesses, which in turn has a knock-on effect on the economy.

 

Making accessibility a priority

The UN rapporteur is set to conclude his visit today. As he issues his interim findings, we hope that issues such as accessible transport and its implications for the life chances of disabled people are acknowledged and addressed, and legislation such as the Trade Bill, reviewed.

Disabled people are at far greater risk of poverty than non-disabled people, due to the factors covered in this series of blogs. This visit has enabled us to raise awareness of these issues. Let’s hope that the rapporteur’s final report, due next year, will offer some solid recommendations which lead to positive change.

 

 

[1] See https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/media-centre/news/press-release-businesses-unprepared-for-threats-to-disability-rights-post-brexit-survey-finds/ [Accessed 10 September].

[2] For example, the Transport Committee (2013-2014); Young Disabled People’s APPG (20152-16); APPG on Disability (2018).

[3] Published by the Department for Work and Pensions (2017).

Poverty and disability in the UK: the role of the welfare system

 

derelict housing

By Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive Officer, Business Disability Forum

As the UN Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights makes further visits as part of his fact-finding trip to the UK this week, we continue our blog series looking at poverty and how it affects disabled people. Today, we will be looking at the impact of the welfare system.

Business Disability Forum is one of the organisations that was asked to submit evidence to the UN Rapporteur ahead of his visit.

This is what we said about the welfare state and how it affects the life chances of disabled people and in turn the businesses they work for and do business with.

 

The need for an effective welfare system

Over a million disabled people, both in work and out of work, rely on income from the welfare system to help them meet basic living costs. There are several reasons for this.

As we looked at in our first blog in this series, at 51 per cent the employment rate for disabled people in the UK is far below the national average, meaning that disabled people are far more likely to experience poverty and need financial assistance than non-disabled people. In addition, those who are in paid employment may need to work fewer hours due to the nature of their disability or long-term condition, and therefore may need to top-up their income.

Alongside this, there are the additional costs of living with a disability. Research carried out by the Extra Costs Commission in 2015 found that disabled people spend on average £550 per month on disability related costs (such as accessible transport options; specialist or assistive equipment; and having to pay premiums on some types of insurance).[1] A updated report finds that the monthly spend directly related to a disability now stands at an average of £570 per month and, for some, this can reach up to £1,000 per month.[2]

Therefore, the welfare system has a vital role to play in providing financially for disabled people and in reducing poverty.

 

Changes to the system

Although the welfare system is designed to do just that, evidence suggests that the recent changes to the benefits process, particularly over the last five years, have significantly and adversely affected disabled people.

Around 1.6 million disabled people claim the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). PIP replaces the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and is intended to cover the additional daily living and mobility costs experienced by people with long-term health conditions and disabilities.  A recent inquiry by the Work and Pensions Committee reported that many disabled people found the process of claiming Personal Independence Payments (PIP) to be inaccessible. The inquiry evidenced a huge amount of distrust by claimants and detailed how 290,000 disabled people were refused PIP awards on first application but were later granted them on appeal.[3] In addition, a reported 59 per cent of PIP applicants needed assistance with completing the application form.

The roll-out of the new six-in-one benefit, Universal Credit (UC), has also received much criticism in the news recently. Evidence from both parliamentary select committees and think tanks has suggested that without additional investment and structural change, the new benefit could have a detrimental effect on the incomes of claimants, both now and in the future. Issues include claimants falling into debt due to receiving reduced or delayed payments, through to increased use of foodbanks and claimants falling out of the welfare system as a result of an inaccessible online application processes

Additional funding for UC was announced in the Chancellor’s recent budget statement, but even taking this into account, it is estimated that nearly a million disabled people could be worse off on Universal Credit and by more than £200 a month.[4]

Prior and in addition to the introduction of UC, many disabled people have also experienced a reduction in their Housing Benefit (one of the six benefits making up UC), since 2013, due to the introduction of what has become known as the ‘bedroom tax’. The legislation provides less financial support for housing for people who live in accommodation with ‘unnecessary’ additional bedrooms and has meant that disabled people have seen a decrease of 14-25 per cent in the amount of housing benefit they receive.

 

The impact

 The information that we have presented here suggests that changes intended to improve the welfare system, in recent years, have had done little to reduce the risk of poverty for disabled people, and, in fact, have put them at greater risk.

Since we made our submission, new evidence has come to light from the Work and Pensions Select Committee[5] on the negative effect of benefits sanctions on disabled people looking to either enter into work or to increase their working hours, and this really gets the nub of the problem.

The welfare system should be there to help improve the life chances of disabled people, yet there is far too much evidence to suggest that for many it is simply making life harder.

The knock-on effect for business and the wider economy of an ineffective welfare system is twofold. Firstly, it means that at time when many sectors are experiencing a skills shortage, attracting and recruiting talented disabled candidates becomes even more difficult. Secondly, it reduces the spending power of disabled people as potential customers.

Having a welfare system that works and supports those most in need, is of benefit to everyone. We hope that as the UN Rapporteur prepares to issue his interim report at the end of this week, he will address this important issue.

 

[1] Extra Costs Commission (2015), Driving Down the Extra Costs Disabled People Face.

[2] Touchet, A. and Patel, M. (2018) The Disability Price Tag: Policy Report.

[3] Department for Work and Pensions (2018) Personal Independence Payment Claimant Research – Final Report: Findings from three waves of qualitative and quantitative research exploring claimants’ experiences of the PIP claim process.

[4] Disability Benefits Consortium, Statement on Universal Credit Managed Migration Rules, https://disabilitybenefitsconsortium.wordpress.com/2018/11/05/dbc-statement-on-universal-credit-managed-migration-regulations/ [Accessed 5 November 2018]

[5] Work and Pensions Select Committee (2018) Benefit Sanctions

Top ten tips for great customer service – and why welcoming disabled customers means welcoming everyone

Regent Street

By Bela Gor, Business Disability Forum

Purple Tuesday is a reminder of the significance of the Purple Pound and that disabled customers deserve not just to be able to get in to a shop, store or website but really great customer service as well.

The spending power of disabled people in the UK is around £249 billion per year and likely to increase as we live longer. This means that quite apart from being the right thing to do as an ethical retailer, it makes good business sense to design premises and websites that are both accessible and usable and to train customer facing colleagues on how to provide excellent customer service to disabled people. If you can do this then you will be providing the best shopping experience for everyone, regardless of disability.

Receiving good customer service is important to everyone, but it can be particularly important to disabled customers and clients who may have very specific needs and be concerned about how these will be met by your organisation. When surveyed about access, 72 per cent of disabled people said that were more likely to visit somewhere new if they were welcomed by staff or the venue appeared to care about access.

What makes for great customer service?

  1. Know your customer
  2. Obvious really but disabled customers should be treated with the same courtesy and respect as anyone else.
  3. Be aware of your legal obligations – although if you are committed to providing the best possible customer service, you will more than meet the requirements of the law.
  4. Nevertheless, ensure that disabled customers can access your service in the same way or as close as possible to the same way as customers without a disability.
  5. If this is not possible, you must offer a reasonable alternative. This may mean doing things differently and providing the service in a different way. The level of service should not change, however. This is an opportunity to think flexibly and creatively about how to provide great service while meeting the needs of your disabled customers.
  6. Make sure signage is clear and direct.
  7. Grant access to assistance dogs. Assistance dogs provide vital support to a wide range of disabled people and people with long-term conditions.
  8. Ensure that customer service and sales assistants know the building. There is no point in making your premises as accessible as possible if customers aren’t told about lifts, accessible toilets, ramps, and hearing loops. Schedule regular checks to ensure these facilities are working and make sure you inform disabled customers and offer alternatives. You can’t help things breaking but you can and should make contingency plans for when they do. Remember to tell your customers about the alternative ways in which you can provide the service to them. It shouldn’t need saying, but telling disabled customers to come back another day when things are fixed is not an acceptable alternative!
  9. Be aware of emergency evacuation procedures and how they affect people with disabilities. Be ready to explain procedures to people if needed.
  10. Always be on the lookout for people who may need extra assistance and offer help regardless of whether or not you think the person has a disability. Most disabilities after all are not visible.
  11. Some people may need extra time paying for goods or completing a form. Always be patient and never rush the customer, even if other customers are waiting.
  12. Have local public transport information available including numbers of accessible taxis.

Disabled customers are more likely to return if they receive good customer service. Providing such service gives out a positive message to everyone about how much you value all your customers. Good customer service goes beyond days like Purple Tuesday. This is an opportunity for retailers to get it right and to keep getting it right every day of the year for all their customers.

The unsung people helping millions stay in work – and why we need to acknowledge them

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

Angela Matthews

By Angela Matthews, Business Disability Forum

At Business Disability Forum we put a big focus on the idea of ‘Going Places’ – being able to get into work, to get on at work, and to lead a productive life. The conversations about this of kind social mobility for disabled people tend to focus on what businesses and government can do – making buildings accessible, adapting workstations or interviews, and so on – but there another critical factor that seldom discussed, and that is the GP or general practitioner.

“GPs are the bedrock of the NHS. They are the first port of call,” Matt Hancock (Health and Social Care Secretary), announced at the National Association of Primary Care’s conference in October. He was talking about on GPs’ roles in ‘preventing’ ill health, not their role in the lives of the some 26 million people in England who are ‘managing’ long-term conditions.

But GPs are also the first port of call for millions of people working with a disability or long-term condition. Put simply, without the role of the GP, many would not be able to stay in work.

I am one of those people.

GPs’ roles in the ongoing management of people’s conditions is severely under-recognised and rarely celebrated. Yet without GPs, many people would not be able to manage their conditions in a way that also enables them to work, take part in leisure or social activities, or be as independent as many of us are.

I often think that a GP’s working environment is challenging: they face poor physical building environments, ever-increasing workloads, and more demands being made on their time alongside continued budget pressures at Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) level, to name just some examples. Yet the UK is desperate to attract more people into the profession to ensure we have a primary care service fit for a more populated ageing future.

Consider that, while facing these challenges, my GP is the key professional figure that makes my life work. My GP speaks to me most months about how I am getting on with my medications and treatment. Is my current formula manageable with what I am currently needing to do at work? We can change it. How does this medication work if the first part of your day is sat on a train commuting into the city? We can tweak it. How easy was it to get your medical supplies this month? And so on.

When my hospital team need to change something in my treatment, they write to my GP requesting him to make the changes on my prescription. I log onto my patient app and I can see it has been done within a few days. I no longer go into the surgery just to request my medication. Neither do I send an email, or make a phone call. I request this through the app; I send any comments to my GP via this app, and it also allows me to see when my GP has sent my prescription to the pharmacy, which always happens within just a few days. I get off the train from work in the evening, collect my car, and go to the pharmacy which is open until 10pm to collect my supplies. It is a perfect example of how the future is in finding that intelligent ‘sweet spot’ between humanity and technology.

Before this, I had to work reduced hours for a week each month while convincing my previous GP what I needed, checking the pharmacy could get what had been prescribed, and facilitating communication between surgery receptionists and the pharmacy about the complexity of my prescription requirements. I am not alone; I hear of many people who do not work or have to reduce their hours because they literally ‘don t have time’ to have a job while managing their medical condition.

As per the Government’s Work and Health Strategy, the primary healthcare setting is absolutely pivotal for retaining and increasing the employment of people who can work but need to manage complex and fluctuating medical conditions every day of their lives.

A switched on, understanding GP can be everything for sustaining the social and economic contribution of the tens of millions of individuals managing their work and personal lives with long-term medical conditions today.

Poverty and disability in the UK: why disability employment is so important

poverty-1148934_960_720

By Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive Officer, Business Disability Forum

Welcome to the first of our three blogs looking at the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty in the UK, which will look at the different factors affecting poverty among disabled people today. In this piece, we look at the relationship between employment and poverty.

The UN Special Rapporteur is currently visiting the UK (6—16 November 2018), exploring the realities and causes of poverty in the United Kingdom. Business Disability Forum were invited to send evidence to the Rapporteur in advance of his visit, and produced a document setting out how persistent barriers to work and services push many disabled people into poverty.

So what did we say?

Poverty among disabled people at a glance

When we talk about poverty here, we use the approach taken by the UK Government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) to measure poverty in the UK, namely households who earn less than 60 per cent of the median household income. The current median household income is currently £27,200[1], meaning households with an income of less than £16,320 are, by definition, living ‘in poverty’.[2]

A major inquiry by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into Being Disabled in Britain[3] found that 30 per cent of working age adults in families where at least one person is disabled were living in poverty, compared with 18 per cent of households without a disabled family member. In addition, the National Policy Institute  can ascribe poverty “directly associated with disability” to 28 per cent of disabled people in the UK, which is over 3 million individuals.

In looking at the root causes of this situation, we applied Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s framework of ‘social causes’ of poverty, namely:

  • Unemployment, under-employment, and discrimination at work.
  • Low levels of skills and education.
  • An ineffective welfare system.
  • High costs of living.
  • Discrimination through work and access to services.

Disabled people have been shown repeatedly to have a magnified experiences of all of these ‘social causes’, so, put simply, they are more likely to live in poverty.

Worse, these same factors prevent many disabled people from ‘Going Places’, progressing into (or within) work, accessing services, and improving their living situations.

Employment and its problems

An abandoned shop front in the US courtesy of Pixabay

There is no doubt that jobs can transform lives – but the opportunities have to be there first

Employment opportunities, and the extent to which they are accessible or inaccessible, can be make-or-break when it comes to moving in and out of poverty.

But disabled people are still less likely to be employed that non-disabled people. There exists a 32 percentage point gap between the employment rate of disabled and that of non-disabled people. Currently, 48 per cent of working age[4] disabled people are in work, compared to 81 per cent of non-disabled people, meaning less than half of disabled people of working age are in work.[5]

This is despite the overall employment rate in the UK being at its highest for forty years.[6]

Sadly even this is only half the story. There are also employment gaps between different groups of disabled people. Of note, we see people who require ‘human support’ rather than technological solutions are at most risk of not getting or falling out of work due to the ‘cost’ and lack of funding to provide the support that works for them. The groups who experience this most are people with learning disabilities, severe mental health conditions, and people who require ‘human’ communications support (such as interpreters).

Then there is the problem of getting on. Research carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission shows disabled people who are in work also experience an often significant pay gap – a reported 13 per cent pay gap for disabled men, and 7 per cent for disabled women.

As with employment gaps, there are impairment-dependent pay gaps. People with learning disabilities, severe mental health conditions, and neurological conditions experienced a bigger gap than other impairments (for example, the biggest pay gap exists for men with learning disabilities, which at the time of writing stands at an unacceptable 60 per cent).[7]

Why is this?

We would suggest that these gaps are a consequence of recurring, systemic discrimination across all levels of society including, as above, unemployment, progression in employment, lack of support when in work, lack of access to inclusive healthcare and support services, and lack of accessible transport to fully take part in training and career development opportunities.

Closing the gap

Of course, addressing this is a central reason that Business Disability Forum came together in the first place, twenty-seven years ago.

Hundreds of businesses employing millions of people have made great strides towards levelling the field since then.

It takes a lot of work, as any one of our Members and Partners will tell you. An effective approach to equality involves the whole organisation, from its policies to its image, from its managers to its training, from its offices to its website.

But if an organisation brings its different teams and elements into alignment on this issue, it can become a hugely powerful force for closing these gaps and enabling people to ‘go places’ – in their careers and their lives.

The causes of poverty among disabled people in the UK are hugely complex and interlinked, but opening up employment opportunities can be a decisive move in the right direction.

As the UN Special Rapporteur continues his visit, we will release more blogs exploring this hugely important topic, including extra costs and the effectiveness of social welfare measures. Stay tuned.

Read our full response to the UN Rapporteur’s call of evidence here and our statement to the press regarding the visit here.

[1] As per Office for National Statistics, Living Costs and Food Survey, 10 January 2018 release.

[2] National Policy Institute, press release August 2016.

[3] Equality and Human Rights Commission (April 2017), Being Disabled in Britain: A Journey Less Equal.

[4] “Working age” in this context is defined by the Office for National Statistics as people between the age of 16 and 64.

[5] Office for National Statistics, Labour Market Status of Disabled People, 14 August 2018. The Department for Work and Pensions are taking this employment gap seriously and this has led to a number of strategies (such as the Work, Health and Disability green paper which led to the Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability strategy and working groups (such as the Work and Health Unit) forming to close the gap.

[6] Office for National Statistics, Labour Market Statistics, September 2018.

[7] Equality and Human Rights Commission (2017), The Disability Pay Gap.

It’s time for something completely different when it comes to young workers’ mental health

Diane Lightfoot

By Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive Officer, Business Disability Forum

The news is full of studies of young people, their mental health, and what they want from the world of work. As members of Generation Z (people born after around 1995 who have grown up with social media) join Millennials (1980-1995) in the workplace, a great many employers will be asking the same question: ‘What do young people want?’

This isn’t a question that is easily answered, but one thing is abundantly clear: mental health is a critically important issue for younger workers, both in the general sense (how well they feel) and in terms of specific mental health conditions.

In a study earlier this month[1] one in three teenagers in the UK were found to be experiencing mental ill-health – and many articles have noted the high rates of mental ill-health amongst older Millennials, too, which analysts believe will stay with this generation as it ages. This means that for the foreseeable future a large proportion of our workforce will either have or have had a mental health condition.

Young people have strong views on the roles of employers when it comes to their mental health, too. In our own study of mental health attitudes in 16-24 year olds we found that the vast majority – 91% of a sample of 1,000 people – felt it was the responsibility of an employer to support its employees’ mental health.

So, the question is not whether employers will have to act, but how.

Will employers have to find a new role?

One of the traditional ways that businesses attract employees is the perk, or benefit. These typically range from fun or social (free drinks) to those more geared to health and wellbeing (yoga classes or gym memberships, say) but generally fulfil the role of bonuses or add-ons rather than, being seen as lifelines for employees.

But there are signs that this might be changing.

A survey of employees’ attitudes to different workplace benefits by Perkbox[2] has seen Millennials and Generation Z alike choosing workplace benefits that are geared towards connection, learning new things, meaningfulness, and community – all things consistently linked to good mental health. Extracurricular clubs (such as arts and craft clubs and book clubs) and sports activities are now far outpacing ‘traditional’ perks like training opportunities, free drinks, and even sabbaticals.

To an extent, this harks back to the ways that large employers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries built entire communities for their employees, with social clubs and even their own churches.

Things have come a very long way since then. But the parallel is interesting. It may be that for employers to attract and retain the next generation of talent, they must take a more proactive approach to looking after the health—particularly the mental health—and wellbeing of their staff.

Clearly this means more than offering freebies and discounts – it involves offering workers a supportive space to socialise, develop their extracurricular skills and find fulfilment. This certainly chimes with my own view that the right kind of job can be far more than an occupation but a central part of our identity.

More than just a perk

Of course, to ensure the needs of staff are met,, such schemes must be backed up by both organisational culture and practical support to employees.

If, as our studies indicated, 91% of young people wanted to discuss mental health, but 63% felt unable to do so at work, it is clear that more needs to be done.

This means equipping managers with proper awareness of mental health and mental health conditions, and having robust policies and practical procedures in place to respond to individual needs. It also means making concerted efforts to challenge and break the stigma about mental health, so that employees feel able to ask for the support they need.

Changing the conversation about mental health in the workplace takes a whole-organisation approach; a top-to-bottom response to mental health by everyone from senior managers, to HR, to team leaders, to emotional support available for every member of the workforce.

For more information and resources on how to meet the mental health needs of employees, see Business Disability Forum’s 10-point strategy for stress and our Resources pages.

[1]‘One in three young people suffering from mental health troubles’, The Guardian, 18 October 2018: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/18/one-in-three-young-people-suffering-mental-health-troubles-survey-finds (accessed 29 October 2018)

[2] Perkbox, ‘The Great Perk Search’: https://www.perkbox.com/uk/resources/library/interactive-the-great-perk-search (accessed 29 October 2018)

World Mental Health Day 2018: ‘Young people in a changing world’.

By Charles Clement, Business Disability Forum

When I started my first proper job for a large insurance firm about 20 years ago, I remember we had a welcome reception with wine and cheese (now that shows how long ago this was).

This was a chance for new recruits to meet senior staff and was part of the formal induction process. After quite a lot of cheese and some wine I got talking to a Director from a different part of the business. My tongue loosened by the wine, I told her that I was very unhappy in my new post. I didn’t think I fitted in, felt very anxious and I was probably depressed, having experienced depression in the past. After a few awkward moments the Director excused herself and went to mingle and I went home. The next day I went in to work and was immediately asked in to a meeting room by my Manager. I was told in no uncertain terms that he did not appreciate me talking about the department to other colleagues and that if I wasn’t happy then maybe it wasn’t the job for me. After this things were, not to put too fine a point on it, awkward – and I left soon after. To be honest Mental Health wasn’t widely spoken about back then so I don’t hold any ill will towards my Manager and as a new entrant to the labour market, I thought his reaction was pretty normal.

I contrast my own experiences to those of someone fairly new to the world of work. I recently spoke to Andrew who has been a Management Consultant at EY for about four years. Andrew, like me, had experienced depression at school and university. When looking for a graduate scheme to join, EYs reputation as a people centred business played a part in Andrew’s decision.

EY logo

EY

When he joined EY, Andrew wanted to explore whether he could create a wellbeing programme that was tailored to young people joining the world of work supporting them to manage their mental health and wellbeing, – perhaps they had moved to a new city away from family and friends for instance. Not only was this project supported by leadership at EY, it was positively encouraged. Andrew knows he can be open with his managers about his depression and has the flexibility to balance his own time with client needs in a way that works for him. So, it does appear that times, are changing.

So what does the future hold? Undoubtedly, mental health is spoken about more widely and has a greater profile in the media. This has gone some way to removing the stigma associated with poor mental health. However, as mental health becomes more widely discussed in the workplace it’s important that it doesn’t drop off the agenda or become a ‘non-issue’. Line managers should still be equipped to have conversations with employees who look like they are struggling with their Mental Health.

Technology is developing at an incredible rate. This allows us to have more agile and flexible workplaces, which can be of great benefit to someone who needs to work from home because of their mental health. Often, this new technology allows employees to work at times that suit them, which can be very useful if sleep patterns are erratic or a person is fatigued at certain times of the day. However, it is important that we make time to ‘check-in’ with our colleagues who work flexibly, to make sure they have the support they need. As in all things in life, getting the right balance is important.

Charles Clement

Charles Clement

The future provides challenges, certainly, but also many opportunities to get it right around mental health. I have worked at Business Disability Forum for six years and the progress made in that time makes me even more hopeful that in another six perhaps mental health will be discussed in the workplace, in the same way we discuss physical health.

Interested in more about mental health?

Business Disability Forum recently undertook a survey of 16-24 year olds to gauge their attitudes to mental health and the role of businesses and universities. While a huge majority of respondents wanted to talk more about mental health, few felt able to do so at their places of work or study, showing how outdated approaches are holding back the next generation.

For the full findings, visit our Media Centre. A report on the findings will be released in January 2019.