People with arthritis missing out on support to stay in work

An office worker using a standing desk

Findings from a survey conducted by Versus Arthritis suggest that people with arthritis across the UK are missing out on the support they need to stay in work.

Access to Work is a government-funded scheme – available in England, Scotland and Wales – designed to support those in work who have a disability or a physical or mental health condition. However, of almost 1,600 survey respondents with arthritis and related conditions such as back pain, 59% said they'd never heard of the scheme.

The survey also told us 35% of respondents had reduced their working hours, 26% had changed the type of work they do and a further 19% had given up work completely or taken early retirement. These findings are in line with national statistics showing that only 63% of the UK’s working age adults with a musculoskeletal condition are currently in work, compared to 81% of people without a health condition.

We believe the help on offer to support people with arthritis to be in work must be improved. That’s why we need you to get behind our campaign calling for improvements to the Access to Work scheme. Send our powerful new report, Working It Out (PDF 1,031 KB), to your local MP to help us draw attention to this issue.

How can Access to Work help?

Arthritis can have a huge impact on our ability to work. The unpredictable, fluctuating nature of the symptoms of arthritis are a particular challenge. When you have good days and bad days, planning your working week can be difficult and explaining your condition to colleagues even harder. Our survey respondents shared that they'd experienced pain (95%), fatigue (86%) and stress (53%) at work because of their condition.

Access to Work grants can be used to pay for practical help to address some of these issues. They can fund specialist equipment, support workers, taxi costs, mental health support services or disability awareness training for colleagues. Sixty-nine percent of our survey respondents who hadn’t accessed the scheme said they believed these forms of support could have helped them in the workplace.

Campaigns manager at Versus Arthritis Morgan Vine, says: "Having spoken to supporters across the country, we know many people with arthritis want to work; they don’t want to give up jobs they love or lose their financial independence.

"Employment can be positive for people’s physical and mental health and, with the right help in place, many people with arthritis are able to work. But for this to happen, they need to understand their legal entitlements to employment support, so they know when to approach their employer and when to turn to the Access to Work scheme.

"If they decide they do need support from the scheme, it’s essential people with arthritis can access high-quality help quickly and efficiently. We believe that improving this scheme will not only help individuals, but also ensure the talent and expertise of people with arthritis in every sector and industry isn’t lost to the UK economy."

Read the full Working It Out report (PDF 1,031 KB), find out more about the Access to Work scheme or read our information on your rights at work.

Dan’s story: I’d never heard of the Access to Work scheme

"My rheumatoid arthritis causes my ankles and knees to swell up, making it difficult to stand, walk and drive. As a chef, my symptoms have caused me major problems as I’m on my feet for long periods.

"Before doing the Versus Arthritis survey, I’d never heard of the Access to Work scheme, but I think it could have helped me. I sometimes use a crutch, which makes walking and using public transport very challenging, and I even took time off work when my ankles were too swollen to press the pedals down in my car. It would have been good to know about the option of applying for help with taxi fares or adaptations to my vehicle when this was going on.

"Equipment that eases the pressure on my hands when my thumb joints flare up could make opening bottles and jars easier, which is essential for my job."

I’m only in my thirties so I want to carry on working but it’s getting harder and harder.

Dan, a chef

Kath’s story: I was worried I might be forced to retire

"I’m 43, a teacher and have had arthritis since I was a child. Teaching is demanding on your body and your mind but it’s my passion. I’ve worked all my adult life but in 2014 the arthritis in my hands and back got very bad. My attendance became erratic and I was in a lot of pain. I was worried I might be forced to retire. This seemed unimaginable at my age, and I had my five-year-old son to think of too. It was a real crisis point.

"I was told about Access to Work by a union rep and found it was quite straightforward to apply. The assessor came to meet me in my classroom. She suggested an ergonomic chair would mean I’d be in less pain, along with shelving at a different height, mirrors to save me having to turn my head so often, a foot stool, a hand-rest and IT equipment that helps me view students’ work from my desk.

"She made some recommendations and sent a report to the school. Luckily for me, my headteacher made sure everything was ordered. I hope, with this support, to remain in teaching for the rest of my working life."