Dan Morley (35) pictured above: “I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis sixteen years ago. My ankles and knees are worst affected and make a seven-minute walk to my local high street feel like a lifetime, with each step causing more pain. Living with arthritis is life-changing; it takes away your independence, making everyday tasks like getting up to answer the front door extremely difficult. In these moments of agonising pain, you try to hold on to the things you love. For me, it was my job as a chef. “My employers struggled to understand the physical and emotional strain that I was under. After a few months of having bad flare ups, which left me barely able to walk or stand, my employers told me there was nothing more they could offer to support me. I was left with no choice but to leave my job last year. I certainly wasn’t ready to leave and had I known about the options available to me, I could have stayed in the role I loved for longer.”
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.
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.
Versus Arthritis is 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.”
Nigel Glastonbury (65): “I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis over 10 years ago and overtime, my condition has got progressively worse. There are days where I can barely move my arms and legs, and despite taking medication to manage the symptoms, the side effects can often make getting up in the morning feel like an arduous task.
“I’ve worked for the same construction company for 12 years. For the first six years, I worked in the after-care team, which involved climbing scaffolds and inspecting buildings/roofs. As my arthritis symptoms worsened, I wasn’t offered any kind of support, such as lighter or ergonomic tools and had to resort to modifying some of the tools myself, so I could have a better grip on the handles. As my condition deteriorated and with no support from my employers, I came to the realisation that it was longer possible for me to continue working in this way. I made the decision to apply for the Site Manager role, which is less hands on but still involves walking around the site and upstairs to reach the various levels.
“I hadn’t heard of Access to Work until speaking with charity Versus Arthritis but I don’t think the scheme, in its current state, is equipped to support people who work in construction. I think more needs to be done to ensure that people in a range of trades have access to equipment that can support them to continue working.”
Jennylyn Williams (50) “I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 21 years ago. I discovered Access to Work in 2012, when I was working as a primary school teacher.
After my knee operation, I was keen to return to work and was advised by the Job Centre that I was eligible for workplace support. The school referred me to an occupational therapist and I was provided with an ergonomic chair and keyboard.
The scheme allowed me to travel to work by taxi, which avoided the stress of having to travel via public transport. I wish more people with arthritis knew about Access to Work. If I hadn’t visited the Job Centre, I would never have been able to continue teaching.”
image ©2018 www.samfrostphotos.com
The Working It Out report was based on the findings of a survey of 1,582 people with arthritis conducted by Versus Arthritis between May and June 2018.
Access to Work is a government-funded scheme designed to support people with a disability, or a physical or mental health condition, who have related workplace needs. While an employer is responsible for making reasonable adjustments to enable their employee to stay in the workplace, if extra help is needed then Access to Work could provide it.
The grant awarded by the scheme can be used to pay for practical help to enable people to start work, stay in work, or move into self-employment. It can fund support including specialist equipment, support workers, transport to and from a workplace as well as during the working day, mental health support services and disability awareness training for colleagues.
Arthritis is a term used to describe inflammation within the joint. As an umbrella term, it covers many different conditions – ranging from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis to lupus, fibromyalgia and gout.
17.8 million people in the UK have a musculoskeletal condition. That’s more than a quarter (28.9%) of the total population.
Musculoskeletal conditions refer to a broad range of health conditions affecting bones, joints and muscles, pain syndromes and rarer conditions of the immune system.
In 2017, 28.8 million working days were lost to musculoskeletal conditions – 20% of all sickness absence in the UK.
Nearly eight in ten (78%) of those living with arthritis feel pain most days.
Arthritis costs the UK health system £10.2 billion in direct costs to the NHS and wider healthcare systems every year.
Read the full report, Working it Out: Demanding More from the Access to Work scheme.
Read our open letter to the Secretary of State to make urgent changes to the scheme so that people with arthritis can stay and thrive in work.