Raising the discussion for disability in the workspace

05 February 2018

Raising the discussion for disability in the workspace

By Shantel Irwin, Arthritis Action’s CEO

There are currently over 10 million people with arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions in the UK, and as a leading cause of pain and disability nationwide, it resulted in a staggering loss of over 30 million working days in 2017 alone, at a cost of £2.58bn to the UK economy.

The reasons why it is so important to address the growing numbers of people with disability due to musculoskeletal conditions are multidimensional. In part, the sheer stats that emerged from ‘Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability, the Government’s recent Green Paper, were shocking. Currently, one in six working-age adults in the UK report a disability. Only about half of people with disability are in work at present, costing the government and taxpayer a huge sum both economically and socially.

Considering social implications, being out of employment can affect independence, increase loneliness, affect personal sense of accomplishment, and push some to feel marginalised. As an organisation promoting self-management and a holistic approach to self-care, we believe this to be a disastrous impact to the wellbeing of an individual; even an unnecessary secondary harm from musculoskeletal conditions. What’s more, the majority of long-term health conditions are acquired in adulthood, so in the UK’s ageing population, inclusive workplaces are imperative.

With these issues in mind, we were delighted to partner with the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA) to host a lecture by Dame Carol Black DBE, RFCP, FMedSci in London, on 29th January 2018. The discussion on musculoskeletal health and work comes topical only a few months after the Government released its Green Paper in November last year.

At the event, Dame Carol Black said: “Musculoskeletal conditions are a leading cause of disability in the UK. Once a worker – especially a worker with a musculoskeletal condition loses their place in the labour market, it is very difficult for them to return.

“The gap in employment rate, between 47% for people with a disability and 80% for the rest of the population, is wider in the UK than in most other European countries. This is an avoidable waste of human capital and productive capacity which affects competitiveness, social and community cohesion, and family stability.

“The UK needs a workforce which is Fit for Work – ill-health in the working-age population is economically inefficient and socially corrosive. The government has acknowledged this in both its Green and Command Papers. It is now time for action.”

And we think that is absolutely spot-on. More must be done to address this issue, with charities and employers coming together to support people with musculoskeletal conditions in the workplace. We would like to see a caring model of employment, which will address accessibility, offer sufficient support, and ensure people can professionally thrive.

The Government report outlines an estimated saving of £100 billion a year on the current cost of ill-health. Moreover, by supporting 1 per cent more eligible people in 18/19 to find work, the Exchequer could save £240 million. Developing people to their full potential should be the financially-savvy strategy, to invigorate people with musculoskeletal disabilities into a healthier, more active life.

Inspired by the brilliant speaker and discussion around these issues, we would love to see new ways of creating a healthier workplace that can provide and keep more disabled people in work.