“We must ensure that workers with Long Covid do not suffer a double burden of discrimination and risk to their livelihoods. Adding Long Covid to the list of disabilities automatically protected by the Equality Act 2010 would help considerably with this.”
By Alice Arkwright, Trades Union Congress
Latest ONS data shows that 1.8 million people report having symptoms of Long Covid, that’s bigger than the populations of the cities of Manchester and Birmingham combined, and the numbers are climbing every month.
The prevalence of Long Covid is highest amongst women, those aged 35-49, disabled people, people living in more deprived areas and those working in social care, teaching and education or health care. Long Covid is a key issue for working age people and our key workers, but the government and employers are still not taking this issue seriously.
Last year we ran a survey of 3,300 people with Long Covid, and they told us about the impact it was having on their lives. Nine out of ten respondents experienced fatigue, with other common symptoms including brain fog, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, pain related symptoms and depression.
And they told us of the devastating impacts Long Covid had on their experiences of work. Over half of respondents told us they had experienced disadvantage or discrimination at work and one in 20 told us they had been forced out of their jobs because they had Long Covid.
They also told us about the changes they needed from their employers to stay in work, including flexible working, support from occupational health and amended duties. But too many were denied the support they need and met with disbelief over their condition – one in five respondents said their employer questioned the impact of their symptoms.
At a time when people need support, it’s concerning that the EHRC have put out a tweet stating that Long Covid should not be treated as a disability.
We believe that this statement will make it harder for those experiencing Long Covid to access the reasonable adjustments they need at work and may contravene the Equality Act 2010.
Of the 1.8 million people reporting symptoms of Long Covid, 791,000 first had Covid-19 at least one year ago and 235,000 at least two years ago. Long Covid symptoms adversely affected the day-to-day activities of 1.2 million people, with 346,000 reporting that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities had been “limited a lot”.
From this data, we can see there are hundreds of thousands of people who may now be considered disabled under the definition in the Equality Act 2010. The act defines disability ‘a physical or a mental condition which has a substantial and long-term impact on your ability to do normal day to day activities.’ Government guidance makes clear that ‘substantial’ means more than minor or trivial and ‘long-term’ means 12 months or more.
Statements like this from the EHRC give license to bad bosses to deny reasonable adjustments to those experiencing Long Covid, which keep them in work and supported.
This statement also directly contradicts advice to employers from the EHRC at the beginning of March 2022 which stated that in the absence of clear legislative protections, organisations should treat staff who have Long Covid symptoms as if they have a disability.
The EHRC has clarified the tweet saying that:
“Given that ‘long Covid’ is not among the conditions listed in the Equality Act as ones which are automatically a disability, such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis, we cannot say that all cases of ‘long Covid’ will fall under the definition of disability in the Equality Act.”
“This does not affect whether ‘long Covid’ might amount to a disability for any particular individual – it will do so if it has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This will be determined by the employment tribunal or court considering any claim of disability discrimination.”
We welcome the clarification but believe that Long Covid should be specified as a disability under the Equality Act along with cancer, HIV and other conditions. Taking an employment tribunal case is a significant burden for anyone, let alone workers who are experiencing Long Covid symptoms and this would mean workers benefit from the disability provisions within the Act from the point of diagnosis.
We must ensure that workers with Long Covid do not suffer a double burden of discrimination and risk to their livelihoods. Adding Long Covid to the list of disabilities automatically protected by the Equality Act 2010 would help considerably with this.
Employers must continue to take Covid-19 seriously and factor it into risk assessments. If we want to reduce the number of people experiencing Long Covid, we must reduce the numbers of people contracting Covid-19 to start with.
This is also central to disabled people. ONS figures from this week show that disabled people have been at a significantly greater risk of death in each wave of the pandemic due to the structural disadvantages they face.
We must prevent the deaths of disabled working people and provide support to those living with Long Covid.
- This article was originally published by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) on May 10th, 2022.
- Alice Arkwright is the Policy and Campaigns Support Officer in the TUC’s Equality Team.
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