In the UK, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) oversees many of the financial benefit schemes supposed to help people stay out of poverty, including the benefits disabled people receive to compensate for the increased living costs that come with a disability. Anyone who has applied to receive this support will be able to tell you how degrading and inhumane the process is, and how poor that support is should you be lucky enough to receive it. The DWP also decides whether or not a disabled adult is capable of working, and are infamous for declaring almost everyone capable of employment, even if they happen to be dying. However, there is a vast ocean of difference between being declared fit to work and actually finding employment.
The first step in finding employment is, of course, applying for jobs, and almost immediately a conundrum arises; should you declare your disability to prospective employers? Declaring a disability carries the significant risk that employers will cast aside your application regardless of your credentials and experience, simply because they consider a disabled employee to be a costly and inefficient burden. While officially this isn’t legal, it is very easy to provide another reason for not selecting that candidate that would be overlooked in an able-bodied candidate, making discrimination impossible to prove. On the other hand (presuming you have two hands, of course), not declaring your disability ahead of time carries the risk that you will be accused of lying or not providing relevant information, perhaps even turning up to an interview only to discover you can’t actually get into the building at all.
Imagine then, that you eventually (after hundreds of applications and approximately thirty interviews, in my case) land a job. Even in the most liberal and progressive places of employment, disabled employees face innumerable problems. First and foremost, comes the battle to receive the reasonable adjustments that you need in order to work; it is often difficult to get employers the agree to reasonable adjustments, especially those that cost more, and having the agreed adjustments implemented is even harder. These discussions are not helped by the fact that the law does not properly define what is meant by a reasonable adjustment, allowing employers to declare things unreasonable for almost any reason. Many disabled people spend months, if not years, struggling to work purely because they lack the equipment or software they need to safely do the job.
Then come the micro-aggressions; the suggestion that you are receiving preferential treatment over other employees, the performance reviews that highlight absences due to chronic illness as poor performance, or the withholding of opportunities based on the assumption that you couldn’t do the task. The pressure to always be present or to perform tasks in a way that isn’t accessible degrades both mental and physical health, perpetuating the cycle.
This is just a snapshot of some of the struggles that disabled people face in employment, some of which come from my own experience in various workplaces, and some of which comes from speaking with others. Even this snapshot makes it clear that the gap between being declared fit to work and actually making it into employment is huge, and that disabled people who are deemed employable but remain unemployed are not scammers or lazy; they are neglected.
Frankly, the DWP shouldn’t be assessing whether or not a disabled person can work. We are more than capable of making that judgement for ourselves, and since most of us actually want to work (having nothing to do all day everyday is not the paradise people believe it to be) they would probably save more money by not having to conduct assessments as to whether someone is fit to work, than they currently do by telling disabled people to bugger off. That doesn’t make the DWP redundant however; there is a task in need of their attention. Instead of judging employees, the DWP needs to be assessing whether or not an employer is actually fit to employ.