The importance of inclusive employment
My name is Pippa, I’m from Yorkshire, and I have a chronic illness. I'm a blogger at Life Of Pippa, and last year I joined Scope’s community team. I now contribute towards the day-to-day running of the online community, alongside working with the Stories and Digital Marketing teams.
There’s never been a tougher time to find employment as a graduate. I finished my degree back in 2016, and saw my non-disabled friends begin to attend interview after interview, with the luckiest ones finally managing to secure a job. Meanwhile, there’s me: just as academically capable as my peers, but unable to work full-time or leave the house more than a couple of times a week, due to my long-term health condition. If my non-disabled peers were having a tough time finding work, what chance did somebody like me have?
I’ve lived with my condition since I was a teenager, and by the time I’d graduated, I knew exactly what kind of employment I needed: opportunities suitable for my skills and interests, but with part-time hours and where I could mostly work from home. I’ve had a whole range of employment experiences in the past, but I feel so fortunate to now be able to say I’ve now found things that work for me.
It was sheer luck that, thanks to being a long-time Scope supporter, I found out about their opportunity for a new Online Community Intern: a reduced-hours, flexible role where I could work from home. I was so chuffed to be offered the position, and after a few months working as an intern, I secured a permanent role within the community team. I’ve now been part of Team Scope for a year, and there are still frequent moments where I reflect on how fortunate I feel to work for an organisation that wholly supports inclusive employment.
Although I work from home, I’ve always very much felt like I’m part of the team: thanks to technology and new software, I’m in constant contact with my colleagues and always feel up to date about what’s happening within the organisation. I can reach out to anyone at any time, just as if I was in the office, and my colleagues and I are constantly finding new ways we can successfully work together. Even though I’m 170 miles away from Head Office, I’ve never once felt isolated.
Another one of my concerns about entering the world of employment was how I would manage to balance my duties with my fluctuating health condition. As anybody with a chronic illness will know all too well, getting through the day requires careful activity management, and again, this is something that I feel has been recognised and appreciated by my employers. I work reduced hours with the flexibility to move these around in case of medical appointments or tough symptom days, and I have regular catch-ups with my line manager to discuss how things are going and whether there’s any other support I might benefit from. Not only does this flexibility mean that I can work in a safe way, it also means I work better and smarter too.
Above all, I feel so privileged to be working for an organisation that not only recognises and accommodates my disability, but embraces it: we deal with any issues my chronic illness presents, and we work out ways I can succeed regardless. Inclusive workplace practice means that not only am I in employment and supporting myself, but that I can pursue a career of my own as well. I’m not just part of a tick-box staff diversity exercise, I’m not one of those rogue disabled people Philip Hammond believed were slowing down the workforce… I’m a valued employee in my own right. And as somebody who once spent frequent nights sat awake worrying about that very issue during my student years, I know it’s something I’ll never take for granted.
The fact that I feel so fortunate in having a fulfilling and safe job, where I’m not thought less of because of my condition, just goes to show how low the bar is currently set for disabled people wanting to enter the world of work. There are still thousands of people in the country who are continually being excluded from employment due to their disability or health condition and the most frequent question I get asked by people in my blogging community is ‘how on EARTH did you manage to find that job?!’.
As I discussed in another recent post, if the UK wants to bring more disabled people into the workforce, the answer isn’t reducing the benefit payments of severely unwell people so that they can no longer afford a quality of life. Instead, we need to listen to the experiences of those who ARE capable of work, and consider how employing them can best be implemented safely and correctly. I hope with everything in me that now is the time that more organisations realise just how valuable inclusive employment can be.
How do you think we can make employment practices in the UK more inclusive? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!