Calls for an Older People’s Commissioner for England are vital. Older people must have a stronger voice in government and help it to join up the dots.
I was speaking last week to someone who works with self-employed people who said that they have received an increase in people with disabilities looking for help to set up as self employed. I also spoke to someone in recruitment who said the number of people with disabilities on their flexible working site has also gone up. The general feeling was that people are anticipating the Government’s push to get people off disability and sickness benefits and trying to get a flexible job before they are pushed into any job.
When the Government announced the policy, it said that the ‘modernisation’ of work would mean people with disabilities could get jobs working from home. The only problem is that there are not nearly enough remote working jobs around, and part of the reason for that is that some Government MPs and supporters have been spending a lot of time opposing working from home and blaming it for every possible social ill. Timewise reports that the number of jobs that are advertised as being open to flexible working is slowing down since Covid and shows almost no improvement since 2022.
The other problem is that remote working may not be sufficient to help people with health problems or disabilities to get back to and stay in work. Other flexibility might be needed which puts people more in control of their hours so they can rest, for instance, if they have a condition which worsens with fatigue. This is going to be an issue for more and more people as the population ages and we will need to have the right jobs available.
Work can be a huge positive for people in terms of feeling useful, feeling connected, mental health and, of course, income. But, if it is the wrong sort of work, it can also make health and disability issues worse. And some people just won’t be able to work so there needs to be a proper safety net in place. Many will be worried about what the implications of the Government’s policy will be and about the motivation for it. We’ve already had comments on our website which show the kind of anxiety and despair that some are feeling.
This should galvanise employers to embrace flexibility, and some have, but many are resisting. It needs real leadership to promote the benefits and join up the dots. That is why calls this week for an Older People’s Commissioner for England are vital. A commissioner can be the voice for older people and link up different organisations and Government departments. But that is only the start. There also need to be champions for older people in each department as well as a minister for older people. Instead, the Government seems to be going backwards – the recent downgrading of the minister for disabled people being a case in point.
We simply cannot put off addressing the needs of our ageing society any longer.