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Kate Summers
Research Assistant
Kate Summers

Stigma and self-stigma is affecting the employment opportunities of young people with chronic conditions

Authors: Kate Summers

14 November 2013

Yesterday The Work Foundation launched a report  looking at young people with chronic conditions’ experiences of education and employment. The ONS also released the latest
labour market statistics yesterday, which reveal that unemployment levels among those aged 18-24 have increased.

The statistics also show that people with a long term health condition or disability have an unemployment rate of 12.2% and an economic inactivity rate of 40.8% (compared to 7.4% and 15.8% respectively among people who were not long term disabled).
The ONS statistics highlight the importance of developing a greater understanding of the potential barriers to employment faced by young people with chronic conditions.
What did the report find?
Our latest report surveyed and interviewed young people living with chronic conditions; by bringing their perspectives to the fore, we can begin to understand the significant barriers to employment that this group face. The report found that barriers for young people with chronic conditions began at school. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of the young people with a chronic condition surveyed felt their condition had prevented them from reaching their full educational potential. The young people we spoke to described teachers who were not understanding or accommodating, and an unwillingness to disclose their condition for fear their peers would not understand. These young people are facing a lack of understanding and stigmatic attitudes from an early age. The study also found that young people with chronic conditions experienced unnecessary difficulties in obtaining and maintaining work. Over half (57%) said that their career progression had been influenced by their condition and over two thirds (68%) said their condition affected their job satisfaction. Participants in the study described how the lack of guidance and support from healthcare professionals and employers, and a lack of suitable workplace accommodations and adjustments impeded their ability to work. Participants also described how the often long delays between experiencing symptoms and receiving a diagnosis, and the lack of work-specific support for their condition, meant that it took a long time for them to learn how to manage their symptoms in the workplace. A striking finding was the extent to which young people with chronic conditions had internalised the lack of support and negative attitudes that they faced. More than nine in ten (93%) of the young people included in the study said that their condition affected their confidence. Participants displayed signs of self-stigma. For example, the young people who we interviewed stated that they were unwilling to think of themselves as disabled, were unwilling to seek help, and felt hopeless about the prospect of finding a job.

What can be done? 

Although saddening, this stigma and self-stigma provides a call for action. The report outlines several key recommendations to ensure that young people with chronic conditions are supported in education and in the workplace for a variety of stakeholders:

  • Changes need to begin at school, with education initiatives to reduce stigma towards such conditions, and careers advice that is tailored for this group.  
  • There needs to be a more joined up approach between the various employment programmes that exist for people with disabilities and for young people.
    It will be crucial that the new Health and Work Service is ready to help young people with chronic conditions and that people are sufficiently aware of the provisions made under disability employment legislation.
  • Healthcare professionals need to recognise work as a possible outcome of a young person’s clinical treatment plan.
  • As Dame Carol Black says in the foreword of the report, the “resilience, persistence and resourcefulness they [young people with chronic conditions] have had to demonstrate at such a young age is remarkable – all qualities which all employers say they value highly”. However, young people with chronic conditions appear to be continuing to suffer a double penalty when it comes to successfully participating in the world of work. If steps are taken to combat the stigma and other barriers that young people with chronic conditions face, then the valuable contribution that they are capable of making to the workforce could be realised.