Arthritis and Employment

Part of Secondary School Standards: East Cleveland – in Westminster Hall at 4:57 pm on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 4:57 pm, 21st May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I commend my hon. Friend Bill Grant on introducing the debate, and on his excellent speech.

I am grateful to have a few minutes to reflect on this topic, because I witnessed at first hand, through the life of my late mother-in-law, Joyce Ferguson, what such conditions can do, in terms of daily pain, and what an encumbrance the condition is to people trying to lead what we would consider a normal life. I saw the benefit of the aids and adapters available to people with such conditions, and I hope that more people will have the opportunity to take advantage of what is available, such as grab rails, electric tin openers and lever taps.

We should take some satisfaction from the fact that, since 2013, 930,000 disabled people have been able to return to work. It is a noble goal that another 1 million people who suffer from disability should return to work by 2027. As has been mentioned, only 63% of working-age adults with any kind of condition affecting muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and joints work, compared with 81% of the overall population with no health condition, so the Government must do everything that they can to continue helping those with such conditions back to work. Given that 17.8 million people suffer from such conditions, half of whom live with pain every day, this subject should concentrate our minds.

The motivation for helping people back to work is not just about statistics. In fact, it should be a long way from them. Work is ennobling. It can bring independence and financial security to someone’s life. It can also lead to social interaction and a more fulfilling life, creating opportunities to develop skills and so on. Allowing people, regardless of their background, the opportunity to work and reap the benefits that work brings should motivate us to give even more support to those with conditions such as arthritis and help them into work.

We must recognise that there are many different types of arthritis, which affect individuals differently, and some are more severe than others. The pain experienced is constant with some forms and less so with others. It is important that the Government continue to recognise that those differences exist and that we should not try to apply a one-size-fits-all approach. We should take that variance into account when we design policies to encourage those who suffer from arthritis to come back into work.

Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the forms in which the pain can vary. One day, an individual may be considered fit to work, but the next day they will struggle to get out of bed. Some will argue that those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis should work on the days when their pain is relatively lower, but that is unrealistic; flare-ups are unexpected and can occur at any moment. The Government must ask themselves why any employer would hire a worker who cannot guarantee that they are fit enough to go to work the next day. The Government need to intervene.

I ask the Minister to answer some questions. Will the fit for work forms be adjusted to make it easier for people to express the fact that they suffer from flare-ups? What role can GPs and rheumatologists play in giving a correct and detailed medical update about the health of a person? Does the Minister agree that both of those things would not only give taxpayers greater value for money but make those who suffer from medical conditions that affect their ability to work feel that they are being encouraged, treated on a more human basis and welcomed by a Government who are intent on serving their needs?