It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. In December of 2019 I suffered a bleed within my brain (a stroke). I had brain surgery to fix the underlying issue, though I was left disabled.
Severe events can focus the mind. I want to make sure I’m doing things I (a) want to do, and (b) believe will have a net-positive impact on my local community and the wider world.
I’ve decided to try at an application for YearHere, a program for social impact in which students explore social problem domains and develop novel solutions through businesses. Examples include: CrackedIt: a business that employs ex-offenders and at-risk youth, reducing crime & post-offense economic risks and recidivism. And BirdSong: a fashion brand selling clothes & accessories sourced ethically and made by women who are paid a living wage.
My recent experience with a physical disability and my historical struggles with ADHD and mental health have helped to focus my heart and mind on the issue of economic participation amongst those who are ill, disabled, or otherwise unable to commit to the demands of the 40-hour work week and its associated struggles. What follows is the short essay I submitted as part of my application to YearHere.
Both paid and volunteering roles are often advertised with an expectation of a fixed hourly commitment. However, many individuals aren’t able to participate due to health reasons or other difficulties. This group includes a cross-section of society: disabled individuals, caregivers, the recently retired, the mentally ill, the chronically ill, and the neuro-divergent. Many of these people are left sidelined by the demanding 40+ hour work week and daily challenges including mobility, caregiving responsibilities, learning difficulties, cognitive differences, fatigue, and pain.
Even with its flaws, the current working week was a victory of sorts, won over time by activism and unionization during the industrial revolution. Amongst this drive for progress, however, there have always been cynical economic interests. Henry Ford supported less working hours because it meant more “consuming” hours, in service of economic growth. There have been efforts to further reduce the working week around the world but often the aim is to maximise economic indicators, but not social indicators such as “inclusion” or “equality”.
There is widening disability employment and pay gap in the UK. Isolation and lack of economic participation creates observable negative effects on health . Disabled people more often end up in food poverty, are less educated, are more likely to experience hate crime or harassment, and have more issues with housing and transport . By lifting up these groups via economic and community participation, we can slowly improve these inequalities.
As a disabled person myself, and as someone with a history of ADHD and mental-ill-health, I have experienced some of the struggles of keeping up with typical expectations of work. I have witnessed how people are actively disabled by society. We prevent equal access to opportunities just because certain groups may be less able to fulfil our expectations of time, energy, or “normal behaviour”. In principle, these challenges are accounted for in the Equality Act 2010. It implores employers to reduce “substantial disadvantages” experienced by disabled individuals , but what do we do when the very fabric of our working society produces such disadvantages? Let’s also not forget that there are vast swathes of individuals who may not be considered disabled but still have significantly challenging differences or deficits. Even in the general population, the vast majority of working adults would prefer more flexible working .
I believe we can create frameworks for flexible working and tools that allow sidelined groups to partake “at will” in the community and economy without having to commit to fixed schedules and expectations. Further political and legislative change to bolster disability rights is, of course, needed, but I believe we can augment these efforts with novel approaches in how we channel participation in our local communities and economy.
Fundamentally, we need to find ways to project the presence, skills and perspectives of sidelined groups into society and the local economy. As Dr Lisa Cameron MP stated , “work confers important benefits. It provides opportunity for purposeful activity, for financial independence, for social inclusion and social status.”