Jobcentre Plus sign.

Citizens Advice says the Tory government and businesses must do more to support disabled people and those with a long-term health condition to stay in work or find a job, if it is to successfully close the “health and disability employment gap”.

In particular, the charity says the welfare system and employers need to better recognise the needs of people with fluctuating or ‘hidden’ conditions, such as arthritis or depression.

Citizens Advice research found that 80% of those who are not disabled and without a health condition are employed, compared with just 49% of people who are disabled or have a health condition.

There are currently 3.5 million unemployed people in the UK with a disability or health condition, with 1.4 million of these wanting a job.

But people with disabilities or health condition are three times less likely to move into employment than those without a disability or health problem, according to a Citizens Advice analysis of the ONS Labour Force Survey.

The analysis also reveals that they are more than twice as likely to fall out of work than people without a disability or health problem.

And an aging population means it is more important than ever that both employers and government do more to address employment barriers faced by sick and disabled people, say Citizens Advice. One in 4 people aged 50-64 are disabled or have a health condition and 500,000 of these are unemployment but want to work.

Many sick and disabled people face further challenges to entering the labour market, including mental health issues and poor education.

  • Over half of people with a physical health condition or disability are in work (53%) compared with a third of people (36%) with mental health problems.
  • Fewer than 1 in 5 who have a health condition or are disabled and don’t have any qualifications are in work, compared with over two thirds (68%) who have advanced qualifications such as a degree.
  • Employment rates for people who have a health condition or are disabled varies significantly by region, from 57% in the South West to 42% in Wales and the North East.

A 55-year-old woman, whose employer failed to provide support after she was diagnosed with a long-term health condition, told Citizens Advice: “I had to leave my call centre job of 8 years after I developed neurological problems which affect my vision. I often get migraines, and my thought processes have slowed a little.

“There were easy ways my employer could have helped me stay in work, like changing my duties to just being on the phone. It would have worked much better and solved the problem of me lagging behind.”

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Closing the health and disability employment gap will take work from both employers and government.

“Disabled people and those with a health condition face a range of obstacles which need to be recognised and addressed to help them get and keep a job. Simple things like being flexible about medical appointments or adaptable working hours can make a huge difference.

“It is also vital that people can get timely support from the welfare system when they need it, such as through Personal Independence Payments.

“As many now work for longer in life, the number of people who need to balance the demands of work and managing a health condition or disability will continue to grow.

“It is in the interests of employers and government to work together to offer a range of support so anyone who is disabled or has a health condition and wants to work can achieve job security.”

Responding to this research, Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said: “We’re pleased to see Citizens Advice highlighting just how much work has to be done in order to close the disability employment gap. A huge proportion of people with mental health problems struggle to work as a result. As such, it’s deeply concerning that the vast majority still don’t have access to proper back-to-work support.

“We have long been calling for more personalised, tailored support, that takes into account an individuals’ ambitions, skills, and helps them overcome the barriers they face in getting and staying in work.

“People tell us that the support from the Jobcentre is often inappropriate, and causes anxiety because it’s delivered under the threat of sanctions.

“Stopping someone’s benefits if they can’t make an appointment because of their mental health, for example, does not help that person into work. In fact, our research shows the opposite is true – that this added pressure makes them more unwell and less likely to get back into employment. The vast majority of people with mental health problems want to work.

“If the Government wants to close the gap, they need to take action to make sure that specialist support is available for everyone with a mental health problem.”

This article was last edited at 23:12 on Wednesday 3 August 2016.