Blog photoPhoto: Catherine Fortey
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Sick [Note] Culture

13 May, 2024

The Prime Minister and his government are adamant that people are better off in work, and have recently begun to insist that our health will improve when we work.

What I have yet to hear him clarify is that only certain jobs that meet the specific criteria for “good work”, that which has security, realistic demands and a level of personal control, can be associated with improved health. Conversely, he has not acknowledged research findings, such as those from The Health Foundation, which find “low quality work can be just as bad for health as unemployment. This can be due to.. stress and anxiety caused by a lack of control or autonomy, job insecurity, or insufficient income due to low pay”.

What proportion of current job opportunities meet the criteria for “good work” and what are our chances of getting such a job?

Realistically very few workplaces meet this criteria. Chronic and deliberate underfunding of the NHS, schools and other public services mean that staffing levels are so low the demands on remaining employees are un-achievable. In fact people who work in public administration, education and health are the most likely to have a long term sickness absence.

In the business sector, profits are maximised and shareholders gain at the expense of employee job security, satisfaction and low pay. The level of strike action taken across all sectors in recent years shows the desperation of dissatisfied employees with their working conditions.

The majority of UK job vacancies include temporary, part time positions, jobs which require Universal Credits to top them up to a living wage. From speaking to friends seeking work it's evidence this is often piece work, work for multinational corporations who oppose their staff joining a union, and jobs that have such unrealistic demands that workers are unable to take a toilet break. In the NHS, some studies find 1 in 9 nurses left due to short staffing, stress and workload. These sorts of jobs are not associated with improved health, and it’s double barrelled - less healthcare provision means more demands on the healthcare providers and they sooner or later join the waiting list for the services they used to provide.

Poverty increases the risk of mental health problems and can be both a causal factor and a consequence of mental ill health. Across the UK child poverty is the highest in a generation, the number of homeless households rockets, the wealth gap widens and in work poverty affects 15% of the workforce and remains a fixed feature in the UK. It is not surprising that mental illness is also on the rise, with stress, fatigue and common mental health problems increasingly cited on fit notes.

What is more surprising is that the government chooses not to address these issues, or their root causes. Mental health provision has been subjected to catastrophic funding cutbacks despite an enormous increase in demand and the obvious need for these services.

Choosing not to release children from poverty (by abolishing the 2 child benefit cap or extending free school meal provision) means young people who experience poverty as they grow up are more likely to experience poverty and mental ill health themselves as adults and therefore be less likely to successfully join the workforce as adults.

Investing now in their future would achieve so much more than making economic sense for the future.

Even if good work opportunities were available for all job seekers, the fact remains that people who are ill, with mental or physical illness, require prompt and sufficient health care in order to regain their health and hopefully become fit enough to work. When timely and adequate health care provision is not in place, shaming and forcing ill people to try to continue working in jobs that are as unhealthy as unemployment, comes at huge cost.

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Lili K

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