As we edge closer to the end of year, the afternoons are getting darker and we're probably all feeling a bit run down and looking forward to a Christmas break. Your thoughts might not have yet turned to the New Year, but how are you feeling about 2017?
If your health has been suffering and you're concerned what the next year holds in store, you're not alone. One in five people in Great Britain are worried they won't be fit enough to continue working in the next year, according to poll results we're releasing today.
And it seems many of us are 'putting up and shutting up' about how we'll manage at work - many of the people we questioned (39%) don't feel confident discussing their health with their employer, and a third of people with a long term condition such as arthritis felt their colleagues don't understand the impact of their condition.
We're releasing these statistics today to launch our 'Work Matters to Me' campaign. We're calling 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.
The situation is serious. Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain are the number one cause of pain, disability and workplace sickness absence in the UK. Our ageing population and growing levels of obesity and physical inactivity mean increasing numbers of us will be trying to work with the pain and unpredictability of arthritis.
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, making planning ahead extremely difficult. Yet despite these challenges, many people with arthritis want to work, and could have greater opportunity to do so if they had access to the necessary support.
Our campaign is urging people with arthritis to speak out and share their experiences of work in response to the Green Paper on Work, Health and Disability consultation which was announced by the Government in October. We're asking 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 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: Catering 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.
To take an example, Amanda is a lady in her 40s who was diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis in her early thirties. She explained to us 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 have 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."
If you're affected by arthritis or musculoskeletal problems, please take a moment to sign our open letter asking the Government to deliver better employment support for people with arthritis who want the opportunity to work, and share your own experiences of working. It doesn't matter whether you're currently in work or not - we need as many people as possible to share their experiences past and present so that the Government listens and takes action. Visit www.arthritisresearchuk.org/workmatters.