Paid employment does not guarantee individuals protection from poverty.
Income and wealth inequalities are fundamental causes of health inequalities, with work and employment conditions also recognised social determinants of health. Participating in paid employment can provide income, identity, social participation and contentment, helping to positively influence a persons’ well-being.
Achieving and retaining employment can be challenging for disabled people. This is why the Scottish Government has set itself the target of reducing Scotland’s disability employment gap by at least half by 2038, as there is a current variance of nearly thirty percent in employment rates between disabled people and the total working population. Such a gap highlights that disabled people have an increased likelihood of living in poverty and suffering debt.
This target sits within a framework of other government measures including the Fair Work Action Plan. There is a recognition that simply attaining paid employment does not always protect individuals from experiencing poverty or achieving improved health outcomes- a situation which must be addressed in order to create a fairer and healthier Scotland.
Many people who are living with long term conditions go to significant lengths to enter and sustain employment. Successful examples are often a result of both the employer and employee working together to implement small and simple changes in the workplace to help the employee perform to the best of their ability. A shared understanding of self management can provide a collaborative approach to working through the factors that matter most in determining whether employment is good or bad for health. These include work environment, design of job, the balance of power between workers and employer and the impact on workers’ mental health, including the balance between demand and control and effort and reward.
In recent years, the ALLIANCE have celebrated Employability Day by sharing the journeys of some of our members and stakeholders on their experiences to achieving employment. Often the leap of entering paid work or moving into increased hours is terrifying, making individuals anxious about they are going to survive financially.
‘Making the transition from permitted work to taking on four days employment is a big step and can provoke a lot of fear about coming off benefits, however having a supportive employer was paramount in aiding this transition.’
NHS Health Scotland has identified better practical support, on issues such as childcare and long-term health conditions, to help people get and keep quality jobs In-work poverty remains a problem in Scotland with up to one third of jobs failing to lift families out of poverty. Disabled people, women and adults with childcare responsibilities remain ‘at risk’ groups of those who experience in-work poverty.
Employers are being heavily encouraged to pay employees the real Living Wage which is currently £9.00 per hour and is based on the cost of living. As it stands, an estimated 470,000 people in Scotland are paid below this level.
Additionally, it is hoped that the Disability Employment Action Plan and the Gender Pay Gap Strategy will have an impact on improving the quality of work by increasing waged and in work benefits, improving employee control at work.
Paid employment has the potential to protect health and contribute to reduced health inequalities, which are widest for people of working age. In order for people to enjoy the benefits of paid employment, it is vital that substantial work is done at both the employer and policy level to ensure it is financially rewarding for people, and that they are supported by workplace infrastructures that enable them to prosper.