Rachael Hamilton, Scottish Conservative MSP has today spoken of her struggle to get back to work having been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2007.
Rachael was speaking in the Scottish Parliament in a debate she secured on Arthritis Research UK Survey on Access to Work.
The debate has highlighted the 1.5 million people in Scotland who suffer from arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions, the debilitating nature of the condition and the importance of the Access to Work scheme in helping sufferers manage work.
The Versus Arthritis survey found that 60 percent of respondents had never heard of the Access to Work scheme and of the remaining 40 percent, 10 percent did not know what it does.
Speaking in the debate, Rachael Hamilton, Scottish Conservative MSP said:
“Many of you will be surprised to learn that arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions affect 1.5 million people across Scotland. The stiffness, pain, and fatigue that can come from these conditions affects so many of the aspects of daily life that are usually taken for granted, and can make even the smallest tasks extremely difficult.
“I know this because I have rheumatoid arthritis. Since my diagnosis in 2007 following the birth of my third child, I have endured the unpredictability of this chronic disease.
“And nearly a third of all Scottish citizens have a similar story. My own home in the Borders is a perfect example of the scope of the problem. Almost a thousand people live with rheumatoid arthritis.
“Of those aged 45 and over there are also an estimated 6,300 people with osteoarthritis of the hip and 10,400 people with osteoarthritis of the knee. These numbers are staggering for a rural area with a small population but, sadly, they are not all that different from Scotland as a whole.
“There is perhaps, not an aspect of life that is more affected by a musculoskeletal condition than the ability to work. Before my rheumatoid arthritis was under control, every single joint in my body was so swollen that I wasn’t able to work, to drive, or even write with a pen.
“Research conducted by Versus Arthritis found that over 80% of those with arthritis had experienced pain, fatigue, and stiffness while at work. In many cases these symptoms resulted in needing to work fewer hours, retire early, or even give up work entirely, which reluctantly is exactly what I had to do. Because I was not able, for a little while, the dog, the baby and I had to go and live with my parents because I needed so much help.
“Those needing to stop working has reached such a level that there is a 20% employment gap between those at work with arthritis and those who have no health condition. The economic impact of this for rheumatoid arthritis alone is estimated to be over £655 million.
“Employers are losing valuable talent and experience in our workforce every time a person with an arthritis’ condition leaves work. The Scottish Government must join with the UK Government to do more to assist all of those living with these conditions.
“In the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto, we pledged to have one million more disabled people in work by the end of the decade and planned to achieve this through help from the Access to Work scheme.
“A scheme that provides vital funding and support for those with a range of disabilities enabling them to be in work. It is a fabulous scheme to provide help, but there is a problem; not many people know it exists.
“A Versus Arthritis survey found that 60% of respondents had never heard of the Access to Work scheme. And of the remaining 40%, 10% had heard of the scheme but did not know what it does.
“The UK Government is sponsoring many promotional events for Access to work throughout the UK but we can do more to ensure that awareness for this scheme is greatly increased. It is imperative that more is done to promote this scheme to both people with arthritis and to employers to ensure that the proper support required to remain in and join the workforce is given in the first place.
“Furthermore, the Scottish Government must do all it can to assist employers in hiring those with arthritis. The Scottish Government and public agencies need to be leaders in promoting the employment of people with arthritis.
“The forthcoming strategies on increasing disability employment in Scotland’s public sector need to acknowledge arthritis and the support required for people with the condition to join, remain in, and contribute to the work force.
“Both of Scotland’s Governments can and must do better for those with musculoskeletal conditions. Better promotion of Access to Work, a definition of ‘reasonable adjustments’, training for Jobcentre Plus staff, and further reviews from the Scottish Government are not unreasonable asks but are changes that could make an extraordinary impact on someone’s life.”
Notes to editors:
The full motion of the debate is as follows:
S5M-13271, Rachael Hamilton - Arthritis Research UK Survey on Access to Work
That the Parliament welcomes the survey by Arthritis Research UK and Arthritis Care Scotland, which has gathered information for, and raised awareness of, the Access to Work Scheme for people who live with arthritis and related musculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain; recognises that the scheme was created in 1994 as a specialist disability service giving practical advice and support to disabled people who are working, self-employed or looking for work; welcomes the news that around 36,470 people were helped by the scheme in 2015-16 across the UK; notes that, in Scotland, it is estimated that almost 1.5 million people live with a musculoskeletal condition, including in the Scottish Borders; understands that these conditions, such as arthritis and back pain, are a leading cause of sickness absence, including among the NHS workforce, which has an impact on the individual, the health service and the wider economy, if those individuals are not supported, and supports the work by Arthritis Research UK and Arthritis Care Scotland to raise awareness of the Access to Work Scheme to help all those in Scotland and the UK who could benefit from it, and looks forward to the results and findings of the survey that are due in 2018.