Versus Arthritis Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis
University of Nottingham

Can we really work for longer? Study asks how feasible a higher retirement age is for people with arthritis

Published by Arthritis Research UK | 22 August 2017

With retirement ages going up and the value of pensions and savings going down, more and more people with arthritis will need and want to work for longer. Arthritis can be a barrier to working at any age, with thousands losing out in the world of work every year because of their condition. That’s why we're funding health and work research to help people with arthritis find or stay in work, inspire changes in the workplace and influence and inform policy-makers and employers.

The Health and Employment After 50 (HEAF) study at the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Health and Work has recruited more than 8,000 people, aged between 50 and 64, to complete annual questionnaires about their work and their health. Using this data, the HEAF team are investigating the health risks and benefits of working for longer, while exploring the impact health and the working environment have on working life after 50.

Keith Palmer, Professor of Occupational Medicine at the University of Southampton, who is leading this long-term study, explains: "Our research is asking, is working longer good or bad for you? And is it feasible for people to work longer? Though these big questions will only be answered when we’ve followed this group through to retirement age, we’re already seeing clear indications of the impact musculoskeletal health has on our working lives.

"We’ve found evidence that people in this age group often drop out of work for health reasons and arthritis is a leading cause. The data also suggests lots of people in this age bracket are looking for a job and are more likely to get back into work if they don’t have arthritis."

Making the work environment work for people with arthritis

"We’re also seeing a strong interaction between people feeling able to stay in jobs and the work environment. When people have job satisfaction, when adaptations are made and flexible working is possible and they have supportive working relationships, they're much more likely to stay in work, even with chronic pain and arthritis."When people have job satisfaction, they're much more likely to stay in work."Professor Keith Palmer

"These 'soft' factors really influence a person’s ability to work for longer. So, as well as developing better treatments for arthritis, we must ensure people with arthritis are well supported in a positive workplace and feel able to be honest about their health at work.

"One in four people in our study tell us they have chronic pain in their back, neck, arms or legs. If we really want people in pain to work for longer we need to make the work environment work for them.

"Everything in our society is geared towards expecting people to work for longer, yet four in ten people in the 50–64 age bracket aren't in work. If government wants to change that we must push this issue higher up the agenda. We hope our findings will help to highlight the current problems and come up with solutions to support people with arthritis who want to find and remain in work."

We have lots of useful information about working with arthritis, including your employment rights, flexible working and talking to your employer about your health.

Can you help us?

We’re also actively campaigning for decision makers to provide more support to people with arthritis so they can find and stay in work. We can’t campaign without you and there are two ways you can help us:

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Posted on Friday 25th August 2017