There was one thing that struck me after trying to pick up my life post-cancer. That was the amount of discrimination I started to face. Everywhere I went to for help was of course interested in my newly acquired ‘disability.’ Not to assist, but penalise me in some way. Banks, insurance companies, but worst of all employers! The disability law, created to protect us, is the one thing stopping many from working. “Do you have a registered disability?” With the pre-pandemic job application process, it was rare for those with illness gaps on their CV to even get the courtesy of a reply.
Let’s be honest, most companies and HR think we are too much of a risk. They don’t want to get involved in complex health issues. The work place is a very competitive environment, with plenty of applicants for each job. This didn’t only cover cancer. It includes heart conditions, dementia, Alzheimer’s etc. Covering a large percentage of the population. Many of these fit to work in some way, but being totally disregarded. How can we afford to waste such a rich labour resource?
With up to 50% of our country being directly affected by cancer at some time, this will be an issue affecting all families. We are all both employees and employers though? Why have we never tried to solve this issue in the past? Because we haven’t had to is my guess. Whilst the state subsidises some of us who can’t work, businesses just carry on regardless. Yes this issue is complex without doubt. Then covid arrived and the world was completely turned on it’s head!
Almost immediately we were forced to change our regular working practices. Flexible working from home became a necessity for most of us. We found who the people were adding real value to our society, keeping the wheels of the nation turning. Of course our health workers. But people working in supermarkets, care homes and binmen. Police, army personnel and teachers of course. Not forgetting the incredible people keeping public transport moving. Many of these services taken for granted in regular times.
During this period we have lost in excess of 160k people to the virus. Many will be suffering with long-term effects and we have no idea how this will play out. Adding to the immense waiting list backlog of 5million + people. You can see now that even more of us will not be able to work in the traditional way. But we have shown that we can be innovative as a society. We don’t all need to be going to offices, miles from where we live at the same time every day. Who thought that was a good idea anyway?
Many employers are looking at a ‘hybrid’ model of working. In old terms, flexible! The aim is to strike a decent work/life balance. Better for all I would imagine, hopefully giving a increased quality of life to more. Does this now mean that those of us with ‘disability illnesses’ will now be considered for work. Or will the very outdated employment practices continue?
The word I’m hearing above every other currently is CHANGE. Every single person and business is having to do this. But will that include leading the way and looking into the disability sector for fresh, hungry talent and experience? Employee welfare will now be a massive issue. Employers now learning how valuable their staff are. We have also learned how crucial work is to our wellbeing. Giving us a feeling of value in society. All of us need that. Importantly we want to give back to a society that has helped us through some extremely tough times. Helping our own mental wellbeing at the same time.
Society must adjust to help so many affected by long term conditions. There is no longer an excuse! I’m hearing daily about the shortage of workers in certain sectors. So surely here is a way to innovate? Of course not everyone is physically able to work, I understand that totally, but so many are. Who have been placed on the scrap heap far too early. We talk about improving equality in all aspects of our society, but I see very little happening for anyone with a disability. I know personally how difficult it is for people going through cancer, working in the NHS and cancer charities! Is anyone really surprised?
Covid has given us the biggest reason for change, that we will never experience again. If we don’t take that chance, our suffering will have been for nothing. We have seen how old and fragile our current working practices are. Not good enough to help us progress with the many new challenges we face. NOW really is the time. I don’t want to tell my grandchildren we weren’t visionary enough to change.
As always these are my personal views based on my own experiences. Please feel free to share yours below.
Thanks Chris, for yet another thought provoking post. The top paragraph brought up stinging tears, for me to read about the discrimination cancer survivors face after going through already difficult journey…
Covid indeed has shown us what is possible in terms of flexible / hybrid working but there needs to be consideration for what that means for different people. For instance, some people thrive better when they’re able to get out of the house into an office full of people to work and interact with physically. Some people have difficult home situations that means the office home is a welcome respite. In a nutshell, Person Centred Flexibility should be the operative CHANGE phrase.
Keep doing the great work you do to make meaningful changes for the cancer community.
Thanks so much for your kind words and support. Indeed I was so shocked at the amount of discrimination shown to people affected by cancer. I wasn’t looking for sympathy but just practical help. Also surprised at how little the organisations that shout loudest were able to give.
Indeed flexibility in the work place is what we all need, and there is now no reason why this can’t be achieved with some creative thinking. Covid is giving us the opportunity to create a better quality of life. We need to take this opportunity.
Big love to you and the family, Chris
Excellent piece as ever Chris.
Thanks so much Leslie, much appreciated. Very best to you
This is an excellent blog by Chris. I just wish that more employers pay attention to what Chris is writing about here.
Thanks so much for sharing Kevin. The disability issue and employment has been dealt with poorly across society for many years. Surely it must be a win/win to look more innovatively into this sector? Especially now!!
Very good article, thought provoking. Definitely reflects the reality of those of up who become disabled (MS in my case) after developing a career and building experience (20yrs Programme Manager for multinationals) and then find ourselves back on the job market. The expectation seems to be disabled people don’t have high level skills and experience and most assistance available is functional and coping skills for entry level roles ( don’t get me wrong that’s fantastic and needed) but if you already have those skills it can be a wasteland of seeing ‘Disability Confident’ on company profiles and hoping to get a response to applications for roles using your skills. I also think remote interviews make it hard to get the disabled tick on the form to be put into context. I always tick the box now as at an in person interview before the pandemic had the feedback that they thought I was drunk, a common reaction to people with MS
Thanks so much for sharing your personal experiences of MS. Your observations are correct, leaving people with a disability feeling very much like 2nd class citizens. So many people I know want so much to give back, but society creates so many unnecessary obstacles to that.
It is not only about earning money, but that feeling of being valued. We need changes in our ways of working shown to us by covid. This should give those that are capable of working, the flexibility to do so. This is not something that will be achieved by law, but only by demand from employers.
Very best to you, and so please you enjoyed the piece, Chris
My doctoral research supports your comments on employer discrimination despite laws in place
I’m sure it does Dianne. Everyone deserves a fair chance of giving back to society. Currently there is active employment discrimination, all very much against the law. There is a lot of talk about equality, but little action for the disabled.