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Employment support and social security for people living with diabetes

Debbie Horne, our Senior Policy Officer (Social Justice and Poverty), reflects on our response to the Department for Work and Pensions consultation on a new plan for Health and Disability.

Our vision is for a world where diabetes can do no harm, this includes harm to people's employment prospects, their rights at work and their living standards. In our response to the Government’s Health and Disability Green Paper, we set out the actions required to ensure that people with diabetes are supported at work and supported into employment where appropriate. We also look at what needs happen to ensure the social security system works for people with diabetes if they need it. 

We know the complications of diabetes, and the impact of unmanaged diabetes, are severe and mean that a person will often experience barriers to full participation in society.

People with diabetes often don’t identify as disabled, despite being covered by disability legislation. The stigma around diabetes and disability can also mean that people don’t tell their employer about their diabetes. People can also be unaware of the protection and reasonable adjustments they can ask of their employer under equality legislation. Diabetes UK has also seen cases where employers have been ill-informed about their duties to employees with diabetes under the Equality Act (2010).

We also know the inequalities that exist in health and work outcomes for people with long-term health conditions, such as diabetes. And that employment and social security support from Department of Work and Pensions must play a key role in supporting people with diabetes to live healthier lives.

Diabetes and Employment

There are around 2.25m people of working age in the UK living with diabetes. Managing diabetes can involve taking medication – including injecting insulin at the right time – and for some people testing blood glucose levels multiple times a day. To prevent the onset of serious complications there are vital checks that everyone with diabetes should be getting which can require time off work.

Despite being covered by disability legislation (Equality Act 2010), people find working with diabetes can be difficult. In our Future of Diabetes survey we carried out in 2017, we found:

  • 37% of those in employment said that diabetes had caused them or their family member difficulty at work.
  • 16% said they felt they had been discriminated against by their employer because of their diabetes.
  • 7% had not told their employer that they had diabetes.
  • While 40% said they felt supported enough at work, 25% said they would like the flexibility to take breaks to eat, test their blood glucose or take medication and 24% said they would like time off work for diabetes related appointments. 

Megan, a Diabetes UK supporter, previously told us about her experience at work and how a lack of sufficient support and understanding led to her having to quit her job in order to manage her type 1 diabetes. You can read Megan’s story here.

Diabetes and Social Security

Most people living with diabetes as adults are unable to get social security support for the condition, despite many children with diabetes often being able to access Disablity Living Allowance. The discrepancy between support for under and over 16s, results in a hard stop to financial support when a child reaches the age of 16 (18 in Scotland)

However, we know diabetes is a serious condition that requires careful self-management, every day, along with the support of diabetes specialists. Access to adequate social security support can be vital for people with diabetes complications – such as blindness and amputation, those who are newly diagnosed, those who are experiencing issues in managing their diabetes or in maintaining employment due their condition.

We hear from supporters that the transition for children when they turn 16 and the change from child to adult services can be difficult, this is compounded by the withdrawal of social security support as people have to apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) after turning 16 (18 in Scotland).

Diabetes and Deprivation

Statistics show that those living with long-term health conditions and disabilities are more likely to be living in poverty, with many of these people relying solely on social security for their income. We believe consideration must be given to whether the current structure of social security support for health conditions is working for all people that could benefit from support, particularly given the higher rates of poverty among people with a long-term health condition or disability.

Recent research funded by Diabetes UK outlined that people living in more socially deprived areas had higher rates of diabetic ketoacidosis, hospitalisation and death than those from less socially deprived areas.

Creating a world where diabetes can do no harm, including harm to employment, living standards and health outcomes, requires a long-term plan to tackle health inequalities that stem from social determinants of health (the conditions where we are born, grow up, live and work). It’s essential the government look at the wider social determinants of health that are driving up increases in the prevalence of conditions, including type 2 diabetes, in order to prevent cases of type 2 diabetes and ensure that people can live well.

Our recommendations to Government

We're calling on the UK Government to:


  1. Make support available to people with diabetes in, or looking for, employment and the importance of this being done in a compassionate and understanding way
  2. Provide access to Work Coaches and Assessors for social security support, such as PIP, being better informed about diabetes - we are supporting Scope’s campaign for the right to be assessed by a person with knowledge of your condition
  3. Enable the DWP works with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that people with diabetes can easily access life-enhancing diabetes tech
  4. Work across government to ensure a healthy standard of living for all putting health equity and well-being at the heart of economic planning and strategy at all levels
  5. Consider whether the current levels of support are adequate considering the high number of people with long-term conditions, including diabetes, who are living in poverty.

We’ll be working to influence the progress of the government’s plans for employment and social security over the coming months, to ensure that everything that can be done to reduce the harm caused by diabetes is on the government’s agenda going forward.

For more information, please download our full response to the the Health and Disability Green Paper. (PDF, 208KB)

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