Over 2.5 million people claim incapacity benefit in the UK. The government recently announced action to drastically reduce this number by over a million – described as âa blitzâ by the Daily Mail. In early September, the Work & Pensions Secretary, Mel Stride, suggested that many of the claimants will be able to work if they have no other option.
The government proposals sparked a backlash from disability groups, with the MS Society saying they would ‘create worry, fear and the real threat of major financial lossâ.
The new measures sound tough. Anyone who remembers the Ken Loach film âI, Daniel Blakeâ will know that the British system of unemployment and incapacity benefits can seem like a minefield. Nobody truly wants to have to navigate their way through this bureaucracy.
But there are a couple of very specific details in the requirements for incapacity benefit. One is the ability to walk – or move a wheelchair – more than 50 metres without help. Another is focused on anxiety and the ability to work with other people.
So there are both physical and mental health measures that could be dramatically alleviated if people can work from home. The government has noticed this and suggested that if they introduce new supportive measures then a large number of people being signed off work could start working again.
This article is not judging the government, or the people claiming incapacity benefit, however there is a very interesting point here. The government has noticed that working from home may be far easier for a group of people with specific disabilities – compared to getting them to find a job in a factory or office.
At SensÃ©e, we have argued this point for many years. Working from home is naturally more inclusive. It can give any company a boost if they have never really focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion before.
If someone suffers anxiety in the workplace, because a large number of people are around, then working alone from home is far more comfortable. If they suffer from mobility issues that make a regular commute difficult – or even impossible – then working from home will be easier. In fact, a wheelchair user is likely to have converted many aspects of their home to make mobility easier.
The British government isnât changing their approach to incapacity benefit because they want to improve their Environmental, Social, and corporate Governance (ESG) scores – they just want to reduce the cost of paying out those benefits to people who are not working.Â
However, companies that want to improve their own approach to inclusion could follow the lead of the government by exploring how they can offer flexible work-from-home jobs to people that have often been excluded from the traditional workforce.
This flexibility and opportunity can extend beyond physical and mental health issues. Parents of young children may want to offer their skills to the right employer, but they need flexibility. The same applies to adults that are caring for an adult relative.Â
This also applies to people that have retired, but would love to do something useful with the knowledge they have built up over a lifetime. Someone with decades of experience working in a retail bank branch is unlikely to ever consider going to work in a contact centre even if the role is helping people with financial advice. If they can manage their own hours and work from home then this is suddenly a possibility.
Although the tone of the Daily Mail story is essentially negative, what the government is actually doing is highlighting that a large number of people are excluded from work today because they want flexible hours and the ability to work from home without commuting.
It will not suit some people, but for many the opportunity to work from home and earn a real salary again could be a lifeline. The government just needs to be sensitive to who it does and doesnât work for and how to support them in the transition from incapacity benefit to working from home.
Shining a spotlight on all these other groups of people excluded from the traditional workplace could actually be a positive outcome from the government reforms.
There are employers out there that offer flexible working hours and the ability to stay at home. SensÃ©e has always operated this way, but it is becoming more common. Many more employers are finding that there is an enormous pool of untapped talent out there, they just need some flexibility and then they are ready to jump back into the world of work.