An Ageing Population and Workforce: Diminishing Health and Disability

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2018 National Disabled Members' Conference
2 July 2018
Carried as Amended

Conference, as we know, the Equality Act 2010 protects people within specified protected characteristics groups, including disability, from direct and indirect discrimination as well as harassment or victimisation arising from a disability. Some health conditions have automatic recognition under the Act while others have a twelve month qualifying period having lasted or expected to last for twelve months or more. The Act additionally provides protection to people without disabilities from direct discrimination or harassment due to their association with a person with a disability or due to someone believing them to have a disability.

However, failing health for many is a gradual process and the provisions of the Act may not apply. In 2017, a report by the Office for National Statistics based on the 2011 Census noted that in England and Wales 5.6% of the population suffered bad or very bad health and people aged 48 years and over were most affected.

The Department for Work & Pensions’ 2016/17 Family Resources Survey reported that 22% of people in the UK had one or more long term health condition; an increase of 3% from 2013/14. 19% of the working age population and 45% of the pensionable aged population reported a disability.

Conference, the UK has an ageing population and workforce:

a) People are living longer. In 2017, the Office for National Statistics projected that the pensionable age population will increase from 18.9% in 2016 to 22.3% by 2041. The Family Resources Survey noted that a third (33%) of informal care currently provided across the UK is for elderly parents, and a fifth (19%) for a partner. 56% of men and 51% of women providing informal care are in employment. Increasingly, securing reasonable adjustments will be crucial to disabled members, while negotiating carers leave will be key to supporting members with caring responsibilities who may or may not themselves be disabled.

b) The workforce is ageing. A 2015 report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development noted that the number of people aged over 65 in employment rose by 437,000. This is coupled by a reducing working age population. In 2017, the Office for National Statistics projected that the working age population will fall from 62.2% in 2016 to 60.3% by 2041. Net migration is projected to reduce by 30% to 165 million by 2041 and current government policy, including immigration and the EU referendum, is undoubtedly influencing this trend. With the health and care sectors reliant on migrant labour, this will also undoubtedly have an impact on the quality of care services our members can expect in the future.

Conference, as we know, people with disabilities are less likely to be in employment and more likely to be unemployed than people without disabilities. A 2018 House of Commons Briefing Paper noted that the employment rate for people with disabilities was 49.2% compared to 80.6% for those without disabilities. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 9% compared to 3.8% for those without disabilities.

A 2015 report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development noted that ill health and caring responsibilities were significant factors behind people leaving the workforce from their early 50’s.

Conference further notes that our ageing population, coupled with draconian government cuts to funding, has led to a crisis in adult social care and health. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older disabled people face additional issues including care services that do not address their needs or respect their identities.

Conference calls on the National Disabled Members Committee to:

1. Increase awareness across the Union of the implications of an ageing population and ageing workforce within the workplace and its impact on the comprehensive range of personnel policies used to recruit and manage staff with failing health and disability.

2. Undertake a review relating to the recruitment and management of disabled employees in the workplace and report back to Conference by 2020. This may include consideration of:

a)How we best support our members with long-term health problems falling short of disability, or providing informal care for ageing relatives with failing health and disability.

b)How we drive greater work flexibility that supports members with long-term health problems or disability remain in work and including greater imagination in what that flexibility looks like.

c)How we positively influence employers to recruit and retain people with long-term health problems, with disability, or with caring responsibilities for someone with failing health or disability.

d)How we positively influence employers to recruit and retain older workers including disabled LGBT, Black and women workers recognising that there is greater likelihood of failing health or disability.

3. Actively promote the sharing of best practice across regions and branches to generate more creative options of recruiting and retaining people with, or caring for someone with, long-term health problems or disabilities.

4. Encourage branches to pro-actively anticipate the effects of an ageing workforce when their personnel policies are being reviewed and use that opportunity to incorporate provisions that increasingly promote the recruitment and the retention of people with long-term health problems or disability.

5. Where appropriate promote the current government ‘Disability Confident’ Scheme to regions and branches enabling them to encourage greater employer take up and progression through the three levels of the Scheme bearing in mind that Disability Confident has been criticised by some disabled people as a tick box exercise – for example, levels one and two rely solely on an employer self-assessment which may not reflect the experience of discrimination felt by disabled people in the workplace.

6. Continue to support UNISON’s campaign for increased government investment in adult social care and health and work with the national LGBT committee to call for a care system that respects the rights and identities of disabled LGBT people.

7. Publicise UNISON’s Carers Leave guide