Islington disability and long-term health conditions employment project: final report

Lewis, Jane, Fernando, Sandra, Nyby, Josefine, Yu, Qicheng, Gay, Dionne and Flynn, Jimmy (2023) Islington disability and long-term health conditions employment project: final report. Project Report. London Metropolitan University, London.


The aim of this research, conducted by London Metropolitan University in partnership with the London Borough of Islington, is to identify the levels of unemployment among residents with different disabilities and long-term health conditions including deafness and visual impairment living in the Borough and the extent to which existing employment services in the Borough support them getting into work. The research had two key elements: a quantitative analysis of economic inactivity and employment to identify both the levels of unemployment among people with disabilities but also whether there are people with particular disabilities and long-term health conditions who suffer more from unemployment, and secondly, a series of focus groups with those groups of people with particular disabilities to further investigate the barriers to employment they experience. The key point here is that ‘disability’ is an umbrella term and that people with particular disabilities and health conditions have different experiences and needs which need to be addressed if they are to be enabled to successfully access work.
The research is part of the London Metropolitan University, London Met Lab Empowering London initiative, which aims to engage the University with its community partners.
The key barriers to assessing work emerging from the research were:
The key barriers identified by participants in the focus groups are highlighted below.

Unfair treatment, discrimination and lack of awareness, training and support from employers – perhaps the key barrier to emerge across all focus groups was unfair treatment and discrimination both in trying to get a job and when in the workplace.
The issues highlighted time and again were a lack of awareness and support by employers in the workplace and associated issues of stigma, stereotyping and ignorance concerning people with mental health conditions, neuro-diverse people, people with learning disabilities, deaf people and people with visual impairment in particular. Many examples were given of the lack of support and awareness of the needs of neuro-diverse people or people with mental health conditions or of deaf people in the workplace. A number of participants in the deaf focus group had left jobs as a result of discrimination from managers and co-workers.
There was a general emphasis on the need for disability awareness in workplaces.
‘in terms of reasonable adjustments, some organisations don’t know how to do that, it’s training. I think it’s about training and educating companies, organisations about how to support and how to make reasonable adjustments’ (Mental health focus group participant)
A related issue was that of disclosure and the uncertainty and lack of clarity over at what point and to whom to disclose information about a health and especially a mental health condition. Participants in the focus group with people with mental health problems among others identified a sense that employers are scared of dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.
Deaf participants had experienced discrimination extensively both in the workplace and in applying for jobs and raised a number of issues concerning the need for deaf awareness in the workplace including simple changes such as fire alarms for deaf people and more widely to challenge the endemic and harmful stereotyping of deaf people cognitive and overall abilities which prevents them securing employment.

Lack of opportunities in deaf and learning disability and general disability aware work environments.

Recruitment processes – the recruitment process was also highlighted as a key barrier to people with disabilities across all the focus groups although the reasons varied for particular groups. Telephone interviews especially for people with learning disabilities were given as one example of a barrier to accessing work while more widely, issues of online application processes and digital literacy were raised.

Digital literacy and exclusion –the increasing shift to online recruitment processes present a major barrier for people with lower levels of digital literacy or who lack access to a laptop and broadband at home as many people with disabilities on low incomes in the focus groups did.

History of low skilled and low paid employment – the experiences of many participants was of having access at best to low paid and low skilled employment. While this results in feelings of low confidence and expectations it also has the effect of pushing people with disabilities, sensory impairments and health conditions into poverty and many of the participants found themselves struggling with the cost of living.
‘The deaf people I work with tend to apply for and are more successful in working in less skilled sectors. These include cleaning roles, hospitality, care sector and retail positions’ (Employment support services stakeholder focus group)

Lack of confidence and low expectations – because of the discrimination and unfair treatment people with disabilities, sensory impairments and long term health conditions experience in accessing employment, there was a very strong sense of having low expectations about the possibility of finding a job let alone a well-paid or skilled job. Many people reported having a lack of confidence and self-esteem.

Low level of educational qualifications – whilst there was a spread of qualifications across the participants in focus groups, with high levels of qualifications amongst many people with mental health problems and neuro-diverse conditions, in general and amongst people with learning disabilities and deaf people in particular, participants had low levels of educational qualifications.

Negative experiences of education – participants with learning disabilities and deaf participants in particular voiced their negative experiences of mainstream education at both school and college. Again, this reflected both a lack of awareness of needs and lack of appropriate support.
‘I went to a deaf school and it was fantastic, I had all the access there that I needed. I was very lively person in the classroom. And then I went on to further education and I felt I was just completely knocked.’ (Deaf focus group participant)

Literacy – levels of literacy, especially literacy in the use of English amongst deaf participants whose first language is British Sign Language (BSL), was raised as a barrier to accessing employment and recruitment processes.

Complexity of the benefits system – for many participants a major concern and barrier is how getting a job will affect their benefits. In particular, people with learning disabilities or people with mental health conditions returning to work after a gap in employment, may need to try work in more than one workplace before they find something which suits their needs and are fearful of the impact this will have on their benefits.

Lack of disability awareness and support in services – the DWP and Job Centre were perceived by some participants and groups as having a lack of awareness and providing little support for people with learning difficulties and mental health problems in particular. There was a perception that support workers were not as supportive as they should be and that personnel changed frequently. However, many of the deaf participants had nothing but praise for the one deaf aware and BSL trained support worker in the local Barnsbury Job Centre who provided a crucial service to deaf service users, and highlighted the importance of deaf aware staff and support.
‘that one person is excellent. She's got the awareness, if that person wasn't there, we wouldn't have that access. Really, it's to do with her. We love her. She's really supportive of deaf people’ (Deaf focus group participant)

Lack of BSL support – the focus group with deaf participants highlighted the lack of BSL support as a barrier in accessing both education and employment.
‘lack of access to support in BSL is a barrier to deaf people in applying for job roles and navigating the employment system’ (Deaf focus group participant)

Length and cost of diagnosis for neuro-diverse conditions – a number of participants had received late diagnosis of autism and ADHD and raised issues concerning the length of time and cost of diagnosis as well as the lack of support for neuro-diverse employees in the workplace including a lack of consideration of needs in terms of workspace, lighting and methods of communication.

Cost of living – and cost and lack of access to gym and swimming facilities essential for rehabilitation – living on a low income is a reality for many people with disabilities and health conditions and was a key issue raised by participants. Almost all participants in the focus group with people with physical disabilities were struggling with the cost of living and identified a need in particular, for affordable, regular access to the gym or swimming pool for their rehabilitation.

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