It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate Bill Grant on securing this debate, on speaking from personal experience and on advocating for his constituents. He rightly highlighted that in many ways, the simple solution for those who want to remain in work is to broaden awareness of the Access to Work scheme. I reiterate that point, which has been highlighted by all hon. Members today, including the hon. Members for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon), for Moray (Douglas Ross), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friend Patricia Gibson.
Many hon. Members have highlighted the fact that arthritis is an invisible illness with a profound effect on many people’s lives. When people think of arthritis, the stereotype is often of someone in their later years, but many people are now being diagnosed in their 20s and 30s; the hon. Member for North Tyneside mentioned her constituent Danielle, who is 25.
As well as highlighting the Access to Work scheme, it is essential to address the fact that there is too often a stigma around declaring an illness, especially at a younger age. Too many people, especially those who are in insecure or part-time work, do not declare their health issues or seek workplace adaptations. It is crucial for support to be distributed not just to large employers, but to small and medium-sized enterprises. Too many people in insecure work are afraid to highlight their health condition, but it is essential that they get the support that they need.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran highlighted the statistics for Scotland. The majority of people can and do want to work. As the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock highlighted, we want to support people into work. We want to make it possible, particularly for young people who suffer from arthritis, to remain in work. Many who are diagnosed will continue to work, and we rely on employers to offer the flexibility, understanding and the adaptations that people require.
Employers who do not support their staff are breaking the law. According to the Equality Act 2010, employers must make reasonable adjustments. Many people, however, may not tell their employer. Ensuring that disabled people can overcome this significant disadvantage relies on a workplace culture change, and attitudes to disability in the workplace changing.
The UK Government can play a role, including through the Access to Work programme. I urge the Minister to promote the scheme more and to enhance the benefits, both for the employer and for employees, specifically for people with arthritis, fibromyalgia and other long-term conditions. The Government could also undertake work to clarify the meaning of “reasonable adjustments”, so that it is clear what employers should provide for those who may suffer from such a condition, and consider what steps they can take to ensure that employers comply with the 2010 Act and carry out the recommendations of the Access to Work scheme.
In closing, I thank my senior caseworker, Rhona. She is probably one of the hardest working people that I know. Despite having arthritis, she has turned her experience and her disability into a positive. She is one of the most empathetic, uplifting and passionate staff members that I could ask for and has provided an invaluable service to so many of my constituents—I am indebted to her. I am so grateful. She is one of many people who have a massive contribution to make, who want to manage their condition and who want to remain in the workplace. I call on the Minister to improve the focus to ensure that today’s figures are drastically improved, and to help support people with arthritis to work for as long as they can and as long as they want to.