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Disability and work – a key space for action

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Improving health in the workplace


On December 3 we mark an international day for people with disabilities, so as PHE's executive disability champion I thought it would be a good time to share a blog touching on the health and work agenda nationally and focusing in our efforts to be a great place to work for people with a disability or long term health condition.

It was with some trepidation that I agreed a couple of years ago to become our disability champion.

As the finance and commercial director of a scientific, evidence based organisation with leading experts across the full gamut of health and wellbeing, I felt little qualified to speak with any authority on such matters.

However, I reflected that whilst no expert, my finance director position probably did have some influence, but much more than that I could bring energy, enthusiasm and a passion to do the right thing in the role.

Subsequently, I’m now involved with the fantastic disability charity – Scope - for which I volunteer as an unremunerated independent lay member of their audit committee (where hopefully I can bring some genuine expertise).

Before I talk about what we are doing at PHE, I thought it was worth setting out some of the national context.

National context

Many of you will be aware that the Government has recently launched a consultation on the Green Paper on Health and Work: Improving Lives.

It aims to open up a national conversation with government on the gap in employment rates between people living with impairments and those without.

This gap is stark and is one of the most significant inequalities in the UK today.  Employment rates range from 28% employment among people with learning difficulties, to 58% employment among people with musculoskeletal impairment and 42% employment among people with mental health issues.

This compares with 80% employment of the non-disabled population.

Closing the disability employment gap is a complex challenge that requires a whole system approach with action in partnership between the public, private and third sector at a national and local level, as well as of course the partnership with people with disabilities themselves.

This will need sustained effort to change the social norms for people with impairments because fundamentally society disables people by not offering the right work opportunities.

Part of shifting this perception sits with healthcare professionals who are often key individuals supporting people as they adapt to the underlying health condition causing the impairment.

Also, core to shifting this is a need for employers of all sizes to offer more inclusive work opportunities which reflect an individual’s needs and recognise that many people’s level of impairment fluctuates through their life, especially as the frequency of impairment increases as they age.

The PHE picture

At PHE we are trying to ensure our own actions in this space contribute to closing the disability employment gap in the public sector.

We believe that a diverse workforce is a talented workforce as it brings an invaluable mix of skill, experience and creativity to the workplace.

And it's essential that our workforce represents and reflects the public that we serve and ultimately whose health we protect.

So having people with disabilities and long-term health conditions as part of our various teams increases our level of expertise and our personal understanding.

This in turn helps spread wider awareness around disability and the way in which we can create better opportunities and more level playing fields for colleagues and our customers alike.

If we don't make a conscious effort to recruit and develop disabled people, we will fail to tap into this growing talent pool and limit our potential.  As an accountant, I can see that action here simply makes good business sense.

To date PHE has striven to create a more inclusive workplace for disabled people through a combination of a fair and open recruitment policy; positive action schemes that help to create level playing fields for disabled candidates and programmes that provide unique career development opportunities for those disabled people who have had most difficulty in accessing the labour market.

We aim - like for anybody else – to ensure that people with disabilities and long-term health issues are not discriminated against at any point during our recruitment process.

We positively encourage anybody with a disability or long-term health condition to apply for jobs with PHE, and provide additional support by adhering to the Guaranteed Interview Scheme whereby anybody declaring a disability applying for a role is automatically shortlisted for interview if they meet the job specification minimum criteria.

Any disability disclosure is protected during the recruitment process and it is for the disabled candidate themselves to declare when and if they wish and to work with us to provide any necessary adjustments for placing them on a level playing field with non-disabled candidates.

MOSAIC programme

Elsewhere, the MOSAIC Transitional Employment Placement programme is a way for us to use positive action, so that people with mental health issues can gain part-time paid opportunities with us through a more accessible route.

We are currently hosting a Project Search programme, whereby 10 young people with learning disabilities or who are on the Autistic Spectrum are provided with a ten month rotating work experience opportunity, together with bespoke coaching and on the job training.

Our largest scientific site, Colindale in North London, hosts the programme and provides access to a range of roles, duties and experiences which the students will use to prepare for the open labour market.

We're also excited to be working with Careers in Partnership to provide work placements to ex-military personnel who have been wounded in service.

Currently we are piloting a programme in our East of England Centre to see how a more robust programme can be rolled out across the whole country and provide potentially life changing opportunities to more talented candidates who have left the armed forces.

For those staff that we already employ with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions, we have a comprehensive Occupational Health service who provide support to staff and their managers that raise any issues.

HR Business Partners are also equipped to help advise on workplace adjustments and any suitable support and our Employee Support Service provides access to useful support tools such as a free emotional support service and self-help tools like ‘Head Space’.

Workplace tools

We are in the process of developing a workplace adjustment passport, which will provide disabled staff, their line manager and HR and Occupational Health staff with a shared tool for using when initiating a meaningful conversation which addresses the adjustments/requirements a member of staff will require to carry out their role on a level playing field.

The tool will record and monitor the success of any agreed or future adjustments, and feed into any wider organisational and/or working environment change where individual need is addressed.

As an evidence based organisation, we have also been building a tool that analyses the diversity of our workforce so that individual directorates, and PHE as a whole, can identify where inequalities lie.

Despite our efforts to date, our data currently shows us that disabled people are still underrepresented at PHE. However, it also tells us that we only hold 55% of information about the disability status of our staff.

This was largely a legacy and artefact of the incomplete information from the 129 organisations coming together to create PHE less than four years ago.

As a result, in September 2016, we launched the diversity disclosure campaign, whereby we have and will continue to inform staff as to why we need their diversity information and how we will use it.

We are using a variety of communication techniques including a personal video from myself as disability champion encouraging staff and letting them know how they can update their information.

Alongside this, we have piloted an audit of the demographic profile of people applying to PHE, those shortlisted and those appointed to better understand how the recruitment pathway supports our work towards becoming an inclusive workplace.

All staff involved in recruitment are required to do both equality and diversity training and unconscious bias training and we participate in the Two Ticks initiative to support inclusive recruitment practice.

I hope this gives you a flavour of how we as an organisation are championing the value of those in our current and future workforce who have a disability or long term health condition.

We have much to be proud of but equally much still to do.

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  1. Comment by belinda fernades posted on

    How very inspirational! As a parent of a severely brain damaged child I deeply appreciate your championing on behalf of people with a disability (visible and otherwise). I read your blog with bated breath and have forwarded to my family members as this sort of behind the scenes work can often go unrecognised. Thank you Michael and my best wishes.