Working with arthritis – our policy report

This report describes the impact of musculoskeletal conditions on the UK workforce and gives the perspectives of people with musculoskeletal conditions about working life. It considers:

  • current health and work policy and programmes
  • the health and work research agenda
  • relevant employment legislation.

It also highlights some examples of good practice by employers, and sets out a series of recommendations to address the needs of people with musculoskeletal conditions who want to work.

The report is intended for:

  • policy makers
  • healthcare professionals
  • employers
  • academics
  • individuals with an interest in health and work.

Read our Working with arthritis policy report (PDF 2.5 MB).

Arthritis 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. These conditions include:

The pain and fatigue they cause often makes working life hard. People who find standing and walking painful can have difficulty travelling to work and may have to stop doing physically demanding roles.

Having stiffness and pain in the arms or hands can make everyday tasks like keyboard work difficult and may slow people down. The unpredictable, fluctuating nature of musculoskeletal symptoms is a further challenge.

People cannot plan their working week if they are not sure how far they will be able to walk the following day without pausing to relieve the pain, or whether they will be able to lift their tools. Ongoing pain can also lead to low mood and affect people’s motivation to work. Yet these are challenges that many people with arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions overcome. Having the right type of job and appropriate support can be a really positive factor for people with a long-term condition.

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.”

Our recommendations for Government

Supporting people with musculoskeletal conditions to stay in work

  1. 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.
  2. HM Treasury should introduce fiscal incentives to encourage employers of all sizes to provide workplace health and wellbeing initiatives targeting and promoting musculoskeletal health, such as early referral and rehabilitation.
  3. Public Health England should ensure that a musculoskeletal component is added to the Workforce and Well-being Charter within 2016–17, and should allocate resource to implement the Charter, to raise awareness among employers of their mandatory duties and of best practice.

Supporting people with musculoskeletal conditions to return to work

The future Health and Work Programme should provide services appropriate for people with musculoskeletal conditions and complex co-morbidities, and should be designed with input from professionals with expertise in these conditions. If Work Choice isn't maintained as a separate specialist disability employment programme, the new Health and Work Programme should provide comparable, or better, support for people with additional needs arising from their health or disability.

Innovation and data

  1. The Joint Health and Work Unit’s Health and Work Innovation Fund should be used to pilot interventions to support people with musculoskeletal conditions to return to work, and to prevent work loss related to musculoskeletal conditions. This should include interventions targeted towards prevention, short-term absence (e.g. early-intervention clinics) and long-term absence (e.g. Individual Placement and Support (IPS)). All studies should include health-economic evaluation and scalability and should be robustly evaluated by a national expert panel and academic peer review.
  2. 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.

Response to the report

"This report has been led by Versus Arthritis, with input from the wider health and work sector.

"This report has been led by Versus Arthritis, with input from the wider health and work sector. "Its purpose is to help policy makers and people in supporting agencies: welfare, social services, voluntary bodies that play a vital part in representation and support, and – crucially – employers themselves, to better understand the needs and views of people whose working lives are significantly affected by arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions.

"The evidence is clear that most people with these disabling conditions want to work. Indeed, with the right support and working arrangements, usually with modest adjustments, they can do so and be valued employees."

Professor Dame Carol Black DBE, MD, FRCP, MACP, FMedSci, Expert Adviser to the Government on Health and Work.