When people talk about getting and supporting sick and disabled people into paid work, there is an image of simply kicking people into any old traditional full-time job, regardless of whether they are qualified or emotionally/physically capable of doing the work. I am often harshly criticised for ‘believing everyone should work’ but I am actually saying I believe everyone has a contribution to make to society in their own way. How society values that contribution and what people are willing to pay for it is another matter, and I have always believed in state support for those who can not earn a living wage unassisted.
I have also always recognised that the emotional and physical journey towards paid employment can be a long one for a whole range of reasons. There can be many environmental and attitudinal barriers, including people’s own perceptions of what they are capable of. Reaching their full potential, and providing them the confidence to use it, can a matter of slowly and carefully wrapping the layers of their current situation, which may be prohibiting them from being ready to think about any kind of employment.
I see a lot of so-called employment support as simply filling in CVs and arranging job interviews. I also fear there is too much creating jobs for disabled people, that are not really meaningful, so everyone can look good and feel good about themselves as boxes are ticked. I believe that if people are properly enabled and empowered to be ready for work, they will be motivated to find the right job for themselves, and any support required should follow them.
If I was asked, or challenged, to support someone into work, as opposed to just talking about it, the first thing I would do is not talk about work. Instead, I would asked them what their hobbies and interests are. Their changing circumstances may mean they have lost touch with their recreational activities, or feel they are no longer able to physically take part in their passions. The reality is that if you name the activity, I can show you one or more organisations supporting disabled people to do it.
It does not have to be an outrageous activity like bungee jumping, and could be as simple as stamp collecting. I believe the reconnection with activities people enjoy doing can boost confidence and social skills, and be the starting point for a discussion on what they are able to do, and what kind of activities they may be interested in. This can lead people to explore education and training opportunities, that can in term lead them to consider work experience and paid employment.
I believe if we are doing work we enjoy, it does not feel like work, and we are motivated to push ourselves and our capabilities. Getting a job should not be the end goal, but rather being happy. I would like to suggest that human happiness normally involves doing something we enjoy, even if we need to do other stuff we do not like in order to do the fun stuff. In this context, I am proposing that leisure activities and having fun could be the can opener to locking people’s potential.
While employment is often solely seen in terms of being paid, it is also and more importantly about what we do to contribute to society. If we enjoy our work than it could be seen that it was something we were destined to do. We should not let the fact many people are unhappy with their employment, simply focusing on getting paid, to be a reason to deny sick and disabled people their opportunity to find their unique contribution to society, and therefore their happiness.