Thousands of people with arthritis are missing out on support from the Access to Work scheme

Nigel Glastonbury on a building site.

A significant number of people with arthritis have no awareness of or have ever used the Government’s Access to Work scheme, a new report published today by charity Versus Arthritis reveals.

Many people with arthritis can and want to remain in work, and support such as that provided by the Access to Work scheme could play a vital role in their ability to do so. However, 59% of people surveyed had never heard of the scheme. On balance, 10% said that they were aware of the Access to Work scheme but had no further details of the support it could provide.

There are 17.8 million people living with arthritis and related musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions in the UK. The conditions, which cause widespread pain and fatigue, can severely impact quality of life and independence, including a person’s ability to work. The charity’s Working It Out: Demanding More from the Access to Work scheme report highlights that with the right support, people who want to stay in work can, yet despite this arthritis and MSK conditions remain the biggest cause of workplace disability in the UK.

What is Access to Work?

Access to Work can be used to pay for practical help, such as specialist equipment, transport to and from work and support workers. But a survey of 1,582 people with arthritis and related conditions from across the UK illustrates failings with access to as well as within the scheme itself. Of the alarmingly small proportion (10%) of people who had accessed the scheme, there were serious issues reported in communicating with the scheme, a lack of appropriate equipment to support them, travel to and from work and performance reviews.

John, who has arthritis and is blind, said:

“I haven’t seen much in terms of change since I first used Access to Work in 2006. Since the Department for Work and Pensions became centralised, you’re a number, not a person who a case officer can relate to. It’s okay for Access to Work to contact you, but as soon as you try to contact them, the barrier goes up. There’s also a huge challenge for people who like me have arthritis in their hands.”

The UK is experiencing its highest levels of employment in over 40 years, at 76.1%.

However, with only 63% of people with an MSK condition in work, it’s clear that people with arthritis are missing out on opportunities. The impact is not just on people with MSK conditions. The economy as a whole is losing talent and expertise across all industries and sectors. As of May 2019, the total annual cost of absenteeism and reduced productivity due to MSK and mental health issues to the UK business is £78.3 billion. This is expected to rise to as much as £87.8 billion by 2025.

We are calling for better support for those who want to stay in work

Versus Arthritis is today calling on the Government to better support the needs of those who wish to stay in work. The Government urgently needs to address the problems in the provision of the Access to Work scheme in terms of communication, outreach and prioritisation.

Tracey Loftis, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Versus Arthritis says: “17.8 million people in the UK are living with arthritis and other MSK conditions, with half in pain every single day. It’s essential that people with arthritis are supported and empowered to do the jobs they want to do for as long as they are willing and able to do so. However, this won’t be possible unless they’re made aware of the support that they could be entitled to via programmes such as Access to Work, and the problems with such support are urgently addressed.”

To read the full report, Working it Out: Demanding More from the Access to Work scheme, visit www.versusarthritis.org.uk/workingitout