Poor health means poor work prospects

What do you think:

  • Improving health and upskilling must be part of helping people to get back to work?
  • If better education improves skills leading to better jobs with less health risks, would we increase overall employment?
  • Are failings in education the root cause of high unemployment for people with long-term health conditions?
  • Is there any point in employment support without tackling poor health?

Catching up on summer reading, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation June report reveals just how significant poor health and low skills can be when unemployed people try to get jobs, stay in work, increase their wages and progress to full-time, permanent employment.  All of this resonates with current thinking that there needs to be much closer links between Jobcentres and the NHS when tackling unemployment.

Having a disability isn’t necessarily always associated with “poor health” (as many Para Olympians demonstrate) but there’s no doubt that many of those claiming benefits due to long-term health conditions will say that their health is poor.  We would all want them to have a better chance of working – with all the financial and social benefits that this can bring.  But the report suggests that work is not always going to lift them out of poverty because:

  • When people with poor health are employed, their jobs are more precarious, lower paid and more likely to be part-time and temporary.
  • People with poor mental health or drug/alcohol misuse can fare even worse.

However, it seems that having more skills can offset the disadvantages of poor health.  Which does beg the question as to whether having skills in the first place (and so avoiding those jobs with higher health risks) helps reduce the likelihood and/or consequences of poor health.  Perhaps it all goes back to the success (or not) of the education system?

Here are a couple of quotes from the report (the layout is mine):

  • “individuals who report poor health are significantly more likely to move
  • from employment to unemployment,
  • from permanent to temporary contracts,
  • from full-time to part-time work and
  • from activity to inactivity.
  • Similarly, they are significantly less likely
  • to stay in employment,
  • to move from unemployment to employment,
  • to move into a full-time job and
  • to move into a permanent job.

This section (of the report) also presented evidence which highlights that individuals with poor health are less likely to move out of low-pay employment and are more likely to move into low-pay employment.”

“Although this does not establish a causal relationship between poor health and labour market disadvantage, it is nevertheless informative and revealing about the importance of good health in relation to the labour market performance of individuals in Britain.”

“A more sophisticated statistical investigation than the one presented here would be needed to investigate the causal impact of health and qualifications on the labour market performance of individuals. Nonetheless, the results reported here suggest that while having poor health is not the only issue associated with relatively unfavourable labour market transitions, it is a principal one, and a lack of qualifications exacerbates the problem. Putting it differently, having some formal qualifications can mitigate the adverse relationship between poor health and labour market performance.

The evidence presented here suggests that for some labour market transitions (such as those involving movements from unemployment to different employment types) the lack of skills seems to be more important than poor health.

However, for other transitions, such as for staying in employment, as well as for the passage from activity to inactivity, health seems to matter more than skill.

However, no clear picture emerges from this analysis of whether qualifications or health status is more important for transitions into low-pay and into temporary work.

One thing that can be said with a little more certainty is that the presence of qualifications seems to have a mediating effect on the negative labour market experiences associated with ill health.

Also, as in the previous section, the results are stronger when mental health is used as the health indicator than when physical health status is used.”

If you are involved in employment support or public health, the report’s Section 7 covering Summary, conclusions and policy implications is worth a read.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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