The Scottish Government’s paper requesting consultation and discussion around employability, labour and workplace policy has provided us with an opportunity to speak up on these issues. In light of further devolved powers, the potential for progressive change has never been more realisable. At Work4ME, we have submitted our learning with other concerned enterprises and put forward the facts as we know them.
The document suggests that the Scottish Government may have an enlightened approach to dealing with workplace issues for people with long term conditions. Of particular concern to Work4ME members are those people who are currently receiving benefits but who want to work in some small capacity. Due to the nature of their condition, their capacity for work fluctuates and, as such, leaves them having to make a fixed decision – either for or against work – with no recourse to moving back and forth as their condition dictates. This consultation offers hope that there may indeed be a more inclusive, flexible and person centred approach to helping people in these circumstances get into or stay in paid work.
Designing a welfare system that helps people focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t do would go a long way toward getting the best out of the individual, benefitting the wider society and enhancing social cohesion. We would like to see a system that is based on the needs of the user and has the ability to respond to their shifting requirements. We are after all, only human.
In Steve Hilton’s recently published book, “More Human – Designing a world where people come first”, he talks about how governments and organisations ought to create customer and social policies that are designed in human scale and that can relate to the individual, the person, the human. As humans we need to live in an environment and in a community that understands, reacts and responds to our needs. When an environment is designed in human scale, with us at the centre, we thrive: if the design is not person centered we become overwhelmed and withdrawn. We become outsiders, do not engage, contribute or thrive.
In many ways the current benefit system alienates people who are sick by curtailing their input into society and threatening to withdraw vital support if they get better – even a little better. This all or nothing, boom or bust approach is cruel and does not address the low-grade, fluctuating nature of many conditions. It breeds a culture of fear and distrust in which people become timid and risk averse. If the system encouraged bravery and stretch while still providing a clear cut safety net, it could help many people become more well, stay well for longer and operate at a level of capability that could be maintained for long periods. Not everyone will strive for this, but those that can would.
In the three years that Work4ME has been in operation we have not met a single individual that does not want to work in order to better their situation, develop their skills and improve their self esteem. The risk though is in losing the support we need to function at all. There are solutions but finding them means working with each person as an individual to carve out a route through the personal and environmental battlefields in order to find a progression that suits them and a solution that is sustainable. We need to come to terms with the fact that every solution, every win-win, every successful end game is person centered.
As one of many groups and organisations working to improve peoples lives around employability we are well placed to advise on research and policy. Through our peer support programmes we have tapped into a well of people hoping to be able to self manage their conditions and get back onto the horse, be it in a part-time, freelance or self-employed capacity, the drive is there but the support and reassurance is vague and tricky. Let’s hope that through this engagement with the policy makers and system designers we can ensure that hope itself is something we can craft together to effect enlightened, human scale policies that support one another to thrive. The alternative is unsustainable.
Member of the Work4ME Co operative