Employment and work

Arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions affect around 10 million people in the UK and are the most common diseases in our working population. The pain and fatigue these conditions cause often makes working life hard. However, many people with arthritis want to work, and can do if they have the right support. The Government should do more to support people with musculoskeletal conditions to be in work.

Having the right type of job can be a positive factor for people with a long-term condition. The ability to work is something many of us take for granted, however for people with arthritis work can be difficult. Julie has rheumatoid arthritis; she told us: “I love my job. And, actually, that’s one of the real helps even if I’m struggling, I get a lot of pleasure out of it. You don’t want to give that up. You don’t want the illness to take another thing from you.”

People with musculoskeletal conditions often make adaptations so they can keep working. Some choose to change the type of work they do, reduce their hours, or become self-employed. A change in duties, flexible arrangements which allow people to work in comfortable settings and pace activity, and the ability to take emergency leave can help people with arthritis to stay in work.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published Quality Standard guidance for employers on how they can best support the health and wellbeing of their employees, especially those with long-term health conditions like arthritis, who are taking or retuning from sickness absence. Versus Arthritis acted as consulting stakeholders during the development of this guidance, and welcomes the recommendations included in the Quality Standard. The full document can be read online on NICE’s website - Workplace health: long-term sickness absence and capability to work.

Read our Working with arthritis policy report (PDF, 2.5 MB). It sets out a series of recommendations to address the needs of people with musculoskeletal conditions who want to work. These include:

  • The Access to Work scheme should be supported by a greater than real terms increase in funding. The Department of Work and Pensions should undertake immediate and ongoing promotion of Access to Work to target people with musculoskeletal conditions.
  • The Treasury should introduce fiscal incentives to encourage employers of all sizes to provide workplace health and well-being initiatives targeting and promoting musculoskeletal health, such as early referral and rehabilitation.
  • Work status should be systematically recorded in health records, including for people with musculoskeletal conditions. Work should be routinely considered as a clinical outcome and systematically included as a health outcome measure for people with long-term conditions in all national and local outcomes frameworks.

Read our Access to work press briefing (PDF, 467 KB).

Read our Response to improving lives paper (PDF, 691 KB).

Read our policy position about the Access to Work scheme (PDF, 380 KB).