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

One in five worried about being fit enough to work next year

Published by Arthritis Research UK | 8 December 2016

Results of a new survey released today have revealed that Great Britain is a nation of 'put up and shut up' when it comes to workplace health.

Over 2,000 people were questioned about their attitudes and experience regarding health and the workplace. Results showed that:

  • 1 in 5 (20%) of people are worried they won't be fit enough to continue working in the next year.
  • 39% don't feel confident discussing their workplace health with their employer.
  • A third of people (33%) with a long-term condition felt their colleagues don't understand the impact of their condition.
  • Over 1 in 7 (15%) wouldn't disclose a long-term health condition such as arthritis or recurrent joint pain to their employer. 

The survey was conducted by Arthritis Research UK to launch our new Work Matters to Me campaign. It calls for the Government to better support people living with long-term conditions such as arthritis, so that they can find and remain in suitable work. 

Arthritis affects 10 million people in the UK, and yet only 60% of people living with musculoskeletal conditions are in work. Work is important, particularly for people with a long-term condition like arthritis. It can provide independence, a sense of control and improve quality of life, both psychologically and financially.

Arthritis can cause extreme pain, stiffness and functional limits that can make everyday tasks such as sitting, standing, commuting and typing very difficult. Symptoms can also fluctuate which can make planning ahead extremely difficult. Despite this, many people with arthritis want to work but don't have access to the necessary support to be able to do so.

Share your experience of work and arthritis

We're urging people with arthritis to speak out and share their experience of work in response to the Green Paper on Work, Health and Disability consultation announced by the Government in October. The Work Matters to Me campaign asks for specific changes from Government to support people with arthritis, including:

  • To help people with arthritis remain in work: More funding and better promotion of the 'Access to Work' scheme for employees and employers, to get help with the costs of work adaptations to enable people with arthritis to maintain workplace health, and assist with the cost of fares to work if someone can't use public transport.
  • To support people with arthritis when they are trying to find work: Tailoring the Government's new 'Personal Support Package' specifically for people with arthritis including ensuring work coaches and disability employment advisors receive training on working with people with arthritis. 

Tracey Loftis, head of policy and public affairs at Arthritis Research UK, comments: "Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain are the number one cause of pain, disability and workplace sickness absence in the UK so this issue needs urgent attention from the Government. Our ageing population and growing levels of obesity and physical inactivity mean growing numbers of us will be trying to work with the pain and unpredictability of arthritis."We're urging people with arthritis to make their voices heard by signing our open letter to Government and sharing their experiences of working with arthritis." Tracey Loftis, head of policy and public affairs

"The Green Paper consultation, announced in October, is a vital opportunity for the Government to properly address the employment and support needs of people with arthritis. Our Work Matters to Me campaign is calling on the Government for specific changes to support people with arthritis. We're urging people with arthritis to make their voices heard by signing our open letter to Government and sharing their experiences of working with arthritis.

The charity's poll also found that: 

  • Over a third (36%) of people with arthritis wouldn't disclose a mental health condition such as depression to their employer. However, many people with arthritis may be at greater risk of developing mental health issues such as depression than those without the condition. A previous study demonstrated that 68% of those with osteoarthritis reported depression when their pain is at its worst.
  • Over a quarter of 35–54 year olds with a long-term health condition reported missing out on career development opportunities due to their poor health.
  • 82% of the general public strongly agree that work is important to their mental wellbeing.

Amanda Histed, 42, was diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis in her early thirties. She explained the impact her conditions have had on her career as a credit controller: "When I was first diagnosed with arthritis, I felt I had to hide my condition from my employer and colleagues. My hands were incredibly painful, and were constantly red and swollen. I didn't feel like people would understand, so I would wear long sleeves and hide my hands under my desk so no one could see how bad they were.

"I've since changed jobs and luckily my current employer is very understanding. My role is still desk-based, but they've supported me by adapting my work station. I also get up and move around throughout the day so that my joints don't stiffen up.

"For me, staying in work is incredibly important as not being able to work would feel like my condition has won. I know I'm fortunate to have such an understanding employer, but there are thousands of people living with arthritis who don't receive the same level of support. That's why it's really important that the Government consider our needs, so that we can remain in control of our careers."

Professor Dame Carol Black DBE, MD, FRCP, MACP, FMedSci, expert advisor to the Government on health and work, said: "Careful attention to the right type of work can contribute not only to a successful and rewarding working life but also to good health and wellbeing generally. We must enable roles which are meaningful, fulfilling, flexible and adapted both to their skills and their capabilities.

"If you live with arthritis, please sign our open letter asking the Government to deliver better employment support for people with arthritis who want the opportunity to work, and add to the consultation response with your own working experiences."

Visit our campaign page to find out more.

View article...

Posted on Tuesday 13th December 2016