Policy and the system

Our Findings

A ‘systems analysis’ approach to understanding factors affecting the job market for older and disabled people in Cornwall.


Dr. Esmaeil Khedmati-Morasae conducted research to reveal the factors that shape the employment profile of older and disabled people in Cornwall – and to see how those factors interact and influence the employment profile.

He conducted interviews with two groups:

  • Older people (over 55 years old), SME owners, HR experts and policy makers.
  • Disabled people, SME owners, HR experts and policy makers.

He used system mapping to turn the qualitative interview data into system maps, which are the interactions or effects between factors.

Older people

He looked at why the employment system is failing to take older people on, the barriers for older people’s employment, and why there may be a negative attitude to older people in workplaces. The findings are summarised as the following pinpoints that reflect the main patterns of practice acting against older people’s employment in Cornwall.

  1. Performance hurdle

Some SMEs believe older people are not able to perform well: they’re not innovative enough, not productive enough. Plus, the business ecosystem in Cornwall is labour intensive – such as hospitality and tourism (including accommodation and food services), care and retail. In addition there is a low perception of older people’s IT skills, which also influences performance.

As a result, people in some SMEs are risk averse when it comes to employing older people. So they prefer to employ from their personal network – which as a side effect makes the rate of older people recruited lower and the probability of workplace adjustment for older people weaker.

  1. Health hurdle

There is a negative attitude to older people’s health. For example, there is the perception that they would take more days off compared to younger people, and would need to be paid sick pay as well.

Due to these health concerns, some SMEs may employ people they know personally or prefer to employ younger people. This negative attitude acts as an employment barrier and we call it a health hurdle.

  1. Manageability hurdle

Some SMEs think that older people are difficult to manage in the workplace, and may be stuck in their ways of working, not adaptable to change, or not willing to be managed by younger people. Again, these SMEs may prefer to rely on their personal network when recruiting or they may choose to employ a younger person.

After reviewing these attitudinal barriers, it is clear that attention should be focused on addressing these negative attitudes, and consequent sustaining practices that keep older people from being employed.

Most SMEs may not have enough experience of dealing with older people and these negative attitudes are not challenged.

  1. Location hurdle

The dispersed geography of Cornwall contributes to the high cost of public and private travel. Moreover, public transport schedules tend to be infrequent. Consequently workplaces are not that accessible for older people – through cost, time, and distance.

This pushes people out of the employment system into benefit dependency., which reduces their ability to own a car, and a cycle is created, where lack of transport leads to unemployment and benefits dependency, and so on.

When older people are not employed they become benefit dependent or go to the gig economy. We know that work satisfaction is very low in the gig economy – due to the fact that it is labour intensive and with low wages. Thus, the rate of attrition is high, people become unemployed and resort to the benefit system despite all their efforts.  

The specific geography of Cornwall also means that the economic system is not that active and job market demand is both low and extremely competitive. Older people must compete with younger people who are more favourable to employers for the reasons stated above.

  1. Gap as a trap hurdle

All the above hurdles for older people’s employment leave their CVs with an extended period of benefit dependency ­­– which is perceived by employers as an employment gap. Some SME owners look at what people have been doing in the last five years and assume a person is not good enough because they were unemployed. The gap acts as a hurdle, and these interlocking factors interact to shape self-sustaining negative employment practices among many SMEs.

To address these practices, a portfolio of policies is required, because if only one part of the system or only one hurdle is addressed, the others continue to interact with each other and perpetuate these negative practices.

Disabled people

The complexity of the social system in Cornwall prevents the bridging of the disability employment gap.

The research looked to reveal the factors that shape the employment profile of disabled people in Cornwall, to reveal how those factors interact, and shape the employment ecology for disabled people. The findings are summarised as the following pinpoints that reflect the main patterns of practice acting against disabled people’s employment in Cornwall.

  1. Fear of time / time monster

Some SMEs believed that disabled people have a higher tendency to take more time off work. This leads to the perception that employing disabled people would lead to higher costs and lower productivity for employers.

Some employers think that all disabilities are similar and that a time-off factor applies for everyone. As a result, they become risk averse, and prefer accessing their personal networks when recruiting disabled people (in the best case scenario) or recruit non-disabled people. As a result, SMEs lack sufficient experience of recruiting disabled people which in turn feeds back into the fear of the unknown, thereby compounding the problem.

  1. Fear of regulation / regulation monster

Most SMEs are afraid of regulations and the consequences if they get something wrong. Their awareness of regulations is also very low.

This is why they prefer not to risk the penalties associated with breaking equality and employment regulations and choose instead to employ non-disabled people.

  1. Fear of cost / Cost monster

Most SMEs are afraid of the financial uncertainties and unknowns of employing disabled people. For instance, they have a fear of the costs related to making reasonable adjustments. This leads to a preference towards employing non-disabled people as there are no associated adjustment costs and uncertainties. 

  1. Disability as incapability

Some SMEs see disability as incapability. They think that if people are disabled, they are incapable. As a result, they either  don’t employ disabled people or if they do, they don’t change the workplace enough to restore the people’s workability. (Workability can be restored and does not mean incapability).

  1. Location hurdle

Due to the dispersed geography of Cornwall, the cost of public and private travel can be high. Moreover, public transport tends to be infrequent and unpredictable. This makes workplaces inaccessible for disabled people – due to the cost, time, and distances involved.

Also, the specific geography of Cornwall means that the economic system is not that active. Job market demand is not high and is also very competitive. Disabled people must compete with non-disabled people who are seen as more favourable to employers for a variety of reasons. This increases the likelihood of disabled people falling into the benefit system.

  1. Benefit system trap

The benefit system is in itself a trap. If disabled people who are on benefits work extra hours (more than 16 hours each week, subject to national regulations), they risk having their benefit taken away. In the absence of access to benefits, these individuals have to face all the above mentioned hurdles to gain employment, which fails them most of the time. They are forced to re-consider applying for benefits which is a very time-consuming and complex process. Therefore, disabled people prefer not to work at all and do not risk exiting the benefit system, despite having the resources and skills that can be huge assets for businesses and society at large.


The employment system, as a social system, coupled with the unique geographical features of Cornwall, creates self-sustaining negative employment practices among most SMEs. These interact with each other and act as hurdles for the employment of disabled and older people in this region. Our system maps capture these hurdles and indicate that we need a portfolio of policies, regulations, and practices to tackle these self-sustaining issues.

Along with Dr. Daniel Derbyshire, Dr. Khedmati-Morasae also conducted a systematic review of all existing policies surrounding workplace inclusion for older and disabled people.

Background to the research on policy and inclusion

Dr. Esmaeil Khedmati-Morasae conducted a ‘systems dynamics’ analysis to find out how to close the skills gaps in Cornwall. In collaborative workshops, participants connected factors they thought helped and hindered an older or disabled person having a job. This video of a live presentation by Dr. Khedmati-Morasaeexplains more about his work.

Dr Esmaeil Khedmati-Morasae of The Inclusivity Project

Dr. Esmaeil Khedmati-Morasae

Access our digital resource on policy and inclusion 

Small businesses are key to inclusivity

Clare Harris fromCornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership talks about the role small businesses play in adapting and changing work mindsets.