This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Find out more here


To discuss how you and your organisation can get more involved with The Work Foundation, please contact us.

Call 020 7976 3575 or email


Government’s new return to work support services must do more to sustain employment of thousands of people with cancer

Anna Kharbanda

18 March 2013

The government must seize the opportunity to significantly improve the lives of people with long-term conditions such as cancer by supporting those ready to return to work. This is according to a paper published today (18 March 2013) by The Work Foundation which sets out the vital issues that the government needs to address in its recently announced new return to work support services.

Returning to Work: Cancer survivors and the Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service has been written in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support to accompany their new report, Making the shift: Providing specialist work support to people with cancer, discusses the crucial role of vocational rehabilitation in returning to work for people with cancer

At a joint event with The Work Foundation at which Dame Carol Black spoke, Macmillan Cancer Support called on the government to take responsibility for improving the availability of and access to specialist vocational rehabilitation services for people with complex health problems, including cancer. In particular, Macmillan’s report outlines the need for a cross-government approach to vocational rehabilitation and for the NHS to be incentivised to promote work as a positive health outcome for people with long-term conditions.

Over 700,000 people of working age are living with cancer (see notes to editors). An individual with a cancer diagnosis is 37% more likely to be unemployed than an individual without one, due to a lack of support from the government, healthcare professionals and employers - despite evidence which shows employing cancer survivors would contribute over £16 billion to the economy each year.

Dr Tyna Taskila, lead author and senior researcher at The Work Foundation, said: “Attitudinal barriers are also an issue. Some clinicians do not view employment as a priority, yet we know that work is beneficial to people recovering from long-term conditions like cancer. This is especially important as more cancers are now manageable.

“Often the consequences of cancer treatment include long-term fatigue and depression and so require employers to make adjustments in the workplace. Our research shows that 73% of employers in the UK have no formal training for managing employees diagnosed with cancer. If the vocational rehabilitation services were designed alongside the Health and Work Assessment Advisory Service we are likely to see more people in recovery return to normal working lives.”
Ciaran Devane, Chief Executive, Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Supporting people with cancer to stay in, or return to work after treatment, not only helps them to regain normality, social contact and an income, it also has wider economic and social benefits.
“While the Government’s response to the Sickness Absence Review is promising, it fails to consider the role of secondary healthcare, including NHS rehabilitation services, in helping people back to work. The NHS must be encouraged to recognise returning to work as an integral part of patients’ overall recovery as well as curing the disease.”
The Work Foundation’s paper calls for the Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service (HWAAS) - part of the government’s response to the Sickness Absence Review – to also focus on those with long-term conditions. Its recommendations include:  

  • The assessment process needs to be as holistic and specific to the individual as possible

  • The government must involve all stakeholders in the development and operation of the service

  • The service should be designed with an awareness of other services, such as vocational rehabilitation - ensuring a ‘dovetail’ between the programme.


Dr Tyna Taskila added, “We strongly encourage the government to do all it can to ensure that people with long-term conditions such as cancer are able to access the service as a routine part of cancer care treatment.

Notes to editors

1. The Work Foundation report authors Dr Tyna Taskila, Jenny Gulliford and  Professor Stephen Bevan are available for interviews, comments and briefings.
2. Returning to Work: Cancer Survivors and the Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service is available from from 00.01hrs on 18 March 2013, or from the press office in advance.
3. Macmillan cancer support report authors are also available for interview. For further information please contact their press team on 0207 840 7821 or for out-of-hours 07801 307
4. 068
5. 700,00 stat is from Maddams J et al. Cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom: estimates for 2008. British Journal of Cancer. 2009. 101: 541–547. This estimate is for 18 to 64-year-olds at the end of 2008.
6. The Work Foundation aims to be the leading independent, international authority on work and its future, influencing policy and practice for the benefit of society. The Work Foundation is part of Lancaster University – an alliance that enables both organisations to further enhance their impact.
7. About Macmillan Cancer Support - More than one in three of us will get cancer. For most of us it will be the toughest fight we ever face. And the feelings of isolation and loneliness that so many people experience make it even harder. But you don’t have to go through it alone. The Macmillan team is with you every step of the way. We are the nurses and therapists helping you through treatment. The experts on the end of the phone. The advisers telling you which benefits you’re entitled to. The volunteers giving you a hand with the everyday things. The campaigners improving cancer care. The community there for you online, any time. The supporters who make it all possible. Together, we are all Macmillan Cancer Support.

Media enquiries:

Tom Phillips 0207 976 3554

Anna Kharbanda 020 7976 3656
For urgent out-of-hours enquiries: 07769 684 508