Thousands of people with arthritis losing out on vital support to stay in work

Kath at work sat at her desk smiling at the camera.

The Government is being urged to do more to promote the Access to Work scheme, as latest research by charity Versus Arthritis reveals that thousands of people with arthritis and related conditions are likely to be missing out on the support they need to remain in the workplace.

A new study of over 1,500 people with arthritis and related conditions found that over half (59%) had never heard of the Government’s Access to Work scheme. A further 10% had heard of the scheme but did not know what it does.

The scheme, run by the Department for Work and Pensions since 1994, is designed to support people over 16 who have a disability or health condition with work-related needs. The grant awarded by the scheme can fund things like specialist equipment, support workers, transport to and from work and mental health support services. It is available in England, Scotland and Wales. A similar but separate scheme operates in Northern Ireland.

The charity, which is working alongside the 17.8 million people with arthritis in the UK, warned that the UK is losing the talent and expertise of thousands of people across many industries and sectors. For those with arthritis, not being supported at work can have a significant personal effect and leave people isolated and in pain with significant negative impact on income and wellbeing.

The large-scale survey also found that as a result of their condition:

  • 35% had been forced to reduce their working hours
  • 26% had changed the type of work that they do
  • 19% had to give up work entirely or had taken early retirement.

Employers are legally required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure workers with disabilities, including many people with arthritis and related conditions, aren’t disadvantaged or discriminated against in the workplace. However, over half (51%) of survey respondents said that their employer had not made all the reasonable adjustments they needed.

Pete, a recently retired teacher of forty years who has ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid arthritis, described how the right support may have helped him avoid early retirement:

“I’ve been a teacher all my life. The last two years of work were agony for me. I was so tired and had already stopped working a couple of days a week. It’s almost painful to be that tired. I had no idea that I was entitled to any support from my employer, or the Government. When I came back to work after surgery, I had ‘nice to see you back’, but no offer of help. My colleagues were very empathetic, and the kids were great, but I was never offered support. I had forty years with wonderful people, but when you’re constantly living on the edge of pain, what can you do?”

Versus Arthritis is calling for the Government to promote the Access to Work scheme to people with arthritis as well as to put mechanisms in place to ensure that recommendations made by the scheme are enacted.

Morgan Vine, Campaigns Manager at Versus Arthritis said:

“Despite arthritis and related conditions resulting in over 30 million lost working days each year – 20% of all sickness absence in the UK – our survey shows very clearly that not enough is being done to ensure that people with arthritis are being fully supported in work, and many are unaware of their rights or where to access support. This simply isn’t good enough.

“The Access to Work scheme can provide some of this much needed support, but it’s currently falling short. The UK is experiencing its highest levels of employment in almost fifty years, yet only 63% of people with arthritis are in the workplace, compared to 81% of working age adults without a health problem. If the Government is serious about supporting one million more disabled people into work by 2027, it must act now.”

Nick Pahl, Chief Executive of the Society of Occupational Medicine, said:

“The Society of Occupational Medicine welcomes this report and its recommendation to promote Access to Work to people with arthritis and related conditions. We would like to ensure people with arthritis and related conditions have occupational health providers that support Access to Work and employers to put in place reasonable adjustments.”

Versus Arthritis is calling on people to share its powerful new report with local MPs and encourage them to raise the issues around Access to Work with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. To write to your MP and to find out more visit Work matters to me.