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.