New research shows the serious impact of multiple health conditions on work and employment prospects

Monday (26 October 2016) saw the publication of a new report from the Work Foundation – Complexities and challenges: working with multiple health conditions which highlights the challenges of working with multiple physical and mental health conditions, and how support might be improved.

The launch at the House of Lords, hosted by Lord Mackenzie of Luton and members of the UK Fit for Work Coalition was attended by over fifty guests, including members of the House of Lords and a number of serving MPs.

Penny Morduant MP, Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work spoke of the importance of work to enabling fulfilling lives.

She argued that For our country to reach its full potential all our citizens much reach theirs” and echoed the messages of the report, stating that we need to understand that having return to work as an outcome in the care pathway is vitally important.

With 1 in 7 of working age (almost 5 million people) in England managing multiple health conditions while seeking to maintain their working lives, the ability to stay in work presents a major challenge not only for the individuals themselves but employers and the health system. As the population ages, this will only increase further.

Principal conditions were related to pain and difficulties arising from musculoskeletal disorders which contributed to difficulties with dexterity and mobility, while mental illness had a substantial and highly detrimental impact on employment outcomes when occurring on its own but even more so when alongside physical conditions.

Members of the Fit for Work UK Coalition* champion the need to better support people to remain in work and to return to work but the report shows that the problem is still significant:

  • People who experience multiple long-term health conditions have poorer outcomes for a range of employment-related measures – particularly where there is a combination of mental and physical health conditions – and the chances of being in employment reduces as the number of conditions increases.
  • We found a cumulative negative effect on health outcomes and costs as well as on a range of employment outcomes – for example, only half of those with multiple conditions are in work, compared to 66% of those with a single long-term condition. The effect was even more pronounced where multiple conditions included a mental health condition, with the employment rate dropping to just 33%.
  • Despite these complex challenges, maybe people with multiple conditions are managing at work, and with better recognition and the right support, more people will be able to remain in work.
  • Work can also have a preventative effect on health – a supportive work environment and better quality work can protect health, and reduce the risk of developing health problems

In our exploration of the work experience for people with multiple conditions, our analysis showed that many people are working, and working well. We found high levels of job satisfaction, commitment and many felt that their ability to work was at its best.

Report author Karen Steadman said “as we await the publication of the Green paper on Work and Health, we want to ensure that government recognises the complexity that many people with health conditions and disabilities experience in the labour market, and that having more than one condition, and a rage of other barriers, need to be taken into account when designing support.”

Karen went onto say “further we call upon employers to strive to develop cultures where employees can feel confident in disclosing their health challenges, and supported in managing them at work”