Since the pandemic, rates of economic inactivity have increased substantially. In particular, young people, people over 50 and people with disabilities and long-term health conditions have experienced high levels of economic inactivity which the current employment support provision has been unable to remedy.
The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee report was published on 19 July 2023 and set out recommendations to government to help support people who are economically inactive in moving into work. Earlier this week (on 23 October 2023) the government’s response to this report was published (here).
In light of the Committee’s recommendations and the government’s responses, there may be some developments on the horizon that will impact employers, including:
1. Changing attitudes around disabled workers
There are already schemes in place such as Access to Work and Disability Confident, which aim to support disabled workers. Disability Confident is a voluntary, employer-led scheme that takes employers through a learning journey, which seeks to promote a cultural change and encourage businesses to recruit and retain disabled people by creating a supportive, accessible and accommodating working environment.
There may be changes to strengthen the scheme. Such changes would be aimed at increasing confidence of disabled people in the labour market by highlighting those employers with inclusive working environments.
In addition, the DWP recently delivered a series of “Adjustments Passport” pilots in a variety of settings. The pilots were run to assess whether these passports can support a more coherent journey of adjustment support, reduce the need for assessments where needs remain the same and empower the passport holder to have a more confident conversation with potential employers about their workplace adjustments. Following these pilots, work is underway to develop a generic passport to support disabled people and those with health conditions in a similar way.
The government is looking at ways to improve access to Occupational Health for Small and Medium Enterprises and the self-employed, including testing a subsidy scheme and a market navigation support scheme.
Over the last few years, we have seen improvements to access to work by the promotion of flexible working. We are likely to see further developments of this nature, for example by the introduction of legislation such as the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 and the Carer’s Leave Act 2023; and also supporting voluntary approaches by employers, including development of the “Happy To Talk Flexible Working” strapline.
2. Support to help older workers to remain in and return to work
The DWP is, alongside three different private sector organisations, delivering employer-to-employee “Midlife MOTs” in three pilot areas. Employees in these pilot areas are able to access support for later life planning, signposting to helpful tools and information and guidance on their health, enabling them to take action reflective of their circumstances. It may be that we see such schemes being rolled out more widely in the private sector.
Specialist 50 Plus Champions are partnering with jobcentres and employers to facilitate delivery of employer-led mentoring workshops. Sessions provide additional employability support and advice on transferable skills which can help individuals to pivot into another career.
The government has appointed a Menopause Employment Champion, Helen Tomlinson, whose role is to drive awareness of issues surrounding the menopause and work, encouraging employers to develop policies that create a more supportive environment to support women to stay in work and progress.
We are therefore likely to see development in this area and employers should consider what support, training and policies they can put in place in relation to this.
3. Getting people into sustainable and suitable employment that enables them to stay in work long-term
It is likely that we will see much better in-work support for those with complex barriers to employment (including mental health, disabilities, age and drug and alcohol dependency). Many of the programmes and schemes under the Plan for Jobs package of employment support, such as the Work and Health programme, the Universal Support scheme and the Individual Placement and Support programme, will provide support beyond the point of securing employment.
Such schemes utilise the concept of “place, train and maintain” that helps match an individual to a job that is right for them, train them to do the job in the way the employer wants it done and provide personalised, ongoing support to sustain their employment.
Employers will need to work with the DWP in relation to such programmes to achieve sustained employment in groups with complex barriers to both securing employment and progression within employment.
As an employer, you can consider ways of reducing barriers to employment and supporting those who are in your employment to improve your workforce stability. With the current talent shortage in mind, making the workplace more accessible to a diverse range of people and putting energy into upskilling your workforce is likely greatly to help future-proof your business.
This article is not legal advice, which it may be sensible to obtain before you take any decisions or actions in the areas covered. Please do contact me if you would like an initial discussion of your situation.