Will the future of work include people with energy limiting conditions?
We need to ensure that the flexible working future includes disabled people
Flexible working is the future; most businesses as well as workers seem to agree. We need to make sure that this future benefits and includes disabled people, especially those of us with energy limiting conditions (ELCs).
Our research with Leeds University Business School demonstrated what people with ELCs want, and need, in order to be able to hold down a job. In short, they need adjustments are to the time, pace and place of work. Indeed, working from home, working reduced hours and having autonomy over the time and pace of work are the main components of ‘flexible working’ as defined by the government.
We were so used to our requests for various elements of flexible working to be refused by employers before the pandemic. It was too difficult, they said. Then, almost overnight, working from home became the new normal in March 2020.
This digital transformation opened up so many new horizons and opportunities for those of us who live in permanent lockdown due to an ELC. If home working and flexible working move to a more permanent footing, will this translate into more job opportunities for us in future?
Making flexible working the default
The government is consulting on ‘making flexible working the default’. The proposals involve strengthing the right to request flexible working for everyone. This includes working from home as well as flexible hours.
Rights to flexible working for disabled people already exist within the Equality Act, of course. The Act places duties on employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’. This can include changes to the place and timing of work, as well as assistive technology or adaptations to premises. However, some disabled people choose not to share their disability with their employer. For them, a stronger universal right to request flexible working provides an important alternative route to workplace adjustments. The government’s proposals appear to be on the right track.
So it’s discouraging that the vision for a flexible working future set out by Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy barely mentions disabled people as a key demographic to benefit from its proposals.
Chronic Illness Inclusion was involved in a response to this consultation by Disability Rights UK and we spoke up for ELCs.
Here are the key points made in the response:
Explaining ELCs and the need for flexible working
Flexible working is one of the key adjustments that some Disabled people request to enable them to work. In particular, people with fluctuating, energy-limiting conditions such as fibromyalgia, ME/CFS and Long Covid, say that working from home, working part-time and having flexible working hours are the key adjustments needed to enable them to enter, or remain in, the labour market.
Failure to address the disability employment gap
This consultation fails to consider the benefits of flexible working for Disabled people, mentioning Disabled people only three times in the entire document. Instead, the consultation is focused largely on the benefits that will be created for parents and carers.
Disabled people are 28 percentage points less likely to be in work than non-disabled people. The Department for Work and Pensions is apparently driven by the mission to get more disabled people into work. This mission is often stated as a rationale for punitive policies. It is astonishing, therefore, that there is no mention of this mission in the proposals on flexible working from BEIS. There seems to be no recognition by policy makers that creating genuinely flexible working opportunities could go a very long way to meeting the target of getting one million more disabled people into work.
“Day One” is not soon enough
In the proposals, the right to request flexible working (note, the “request”) would exist from day one in a job. Despite being titled ‘Making Flexibility the Default’ the consultation does not offer employees any form of flexible working arrangements until after they have started their job. Creating a right to request flexible working on day one of a job, does not mean that the employee will be granted their request. Instead, employees may have to wait some time before flexibility is built into their role, if it is approved at all.
We strongly suggest that ‘day one’ is not soon enough to consider flexible working requests. Instead, the discussion of flexible working and the ability to request it should take place at recruitment and selection stages, and flexibility should be promoted during advertising. In doing so, employment opportunities will be created that benefit both disabled people and the business. This upfront discussion before the job starts would be positive for all job seekers and employers
Flexibility should be built into job design
For many disabled people out of work, knowing in advance that flexible working arrangements are on offer would act as an encouragement to give work a try. Many who become disabled and lose work also lose their confidence, and if job adverts stated that roles were open to flexible working that would help the aims of the Green Paper to encourage people to feel more confident to consider applying.