Working well? How the pandemic changed work for people with health conditions

Mason B, Edwards M, Bajorek Z, Bevan S |   | Centre for Ageing Better | Jun 2021

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Prior to Covid-19, an employment gap between those aged over and under 50 already existed. This disparity has been exacerbated by the pandemic, as older workers have been amongst the worst affected in terms of furlough and loss of employment (Centre for Ageing Better, 2020a; IFS, 2020).

Re-joining the labour market is likely to be more difficult for older workers as they face additional barriers in comparison to their younger counterparts. Older workers are more likely to have a long-term health condition (LTC; ONS, 2020a) that causes disability, and therefore are more likely to face ableism and ageism in the employment process (Van der Horst and Vickerstaff 2021).

The Centre for Ageing Better (Ageing Better) predicted that the Covid-19 pandemic could create additional risks for older workers who live with a LTC, such as reducing employer capacity to provide reasonable adjustments for those with health conditions, limiting access to treatment that may lead to worsening conditions, and reducing priority for older workers to receive employment support. On the other hand, changes to work because of the pandemic could benefit how this population are able to manage their condition through greater flexibility and home-working.

Ageing Better wanted to understand how these dynamics would materialise in reality and ensure that their response to these issues is informed by lived experience. To understand how the pandemic affected the employment experiences of those aged 50 and over who live with an LTC, research was undertaken by IES to explore individuals’ working experiences before and during the pandemic, as well as their views on the future.

To explore how experiences changed over time, participants were invited to take part in two interviews: the first in August or September 2020, and the second in February 2021. Participants also took part in a prompted online journaling exercise between the interviews.

IES adopted an in-depth and longitudinal qualitative research methodology consisting of two primary elements:

  • Two interviews with twenty participants, aged 50 years and over, who have a long-term health condition or disability, conducted six months apart. A full list of participants, with their demographic and employment details, is included in Annex 1.
  • Monthly prompted online journals to capture ongoing changes and experiences as lockdown measures are eased and individuals potentially return to work.