12 February 2016 10:56

The rising tide of people with long-term conditions threatens to overwhelm Britain’s economy and the NHS, according to a new report published by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation.

The Work Foundation is calling on the government to consider the use of tax rebates and financial incentives to employers who help support people with long term conditions to remain in work. The impact on the economy is already estimated to be well over £100 billion per year and will get significantly worse, unless immediate action is taken by government and the NHS. Employment rates for people with long-term conditions are persistently low, despite work being possible and beneficial for many.

Employers are also called on to do their bit, by ensuring their workplaces are open and supportive environments and that reasonable adjustments are made to help workers with long-term and fluctuating conditions.

Sickness absence costs the UK economy around £22 billion a year with individuals losing out on a collective £4 billion in lost earnings as a result of illness. Mental illness alone was responsible for the loss of 70 million working days in 2007, and days lost to stress, depression and anxiety have risen by 24 per cent since 2009.

The report, developed with the support of Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Ltd, sets out recommendations for how Government, the NHS and employers can do more to grow the economy through reducing welfare expenditure, increasing tax receipts and boosting productivity.

Dr Zofia Bajorek, report author and researcher at Lancaster University’s Work Foundation, stated:

“Unless immediate action is taken the pressure on the economy and the NHS will become unbearable in the future. That means an even greater portion of our nation’s finances will need to be spent on healthcare and welfare than ever before.

“Many people with long-term conditions want to work but there are considerable barriers preventing them accessing or retaining employment. There are solutions to this problem but government, the NHS and employers need to work together to ensure that people with long-term conditions can get back to work. Government needs to incentivise businesses to support people with long-term conditions to remain in work whilst also ensuring that people with long-term conditions are diagnosed and treated sooner, improving the chances that they will remain economically active.”

With an ageing population, the pension crisis and the growing burden of chronic disease, The Work Foundation is concerned that the situation will deteriorate without government action. The number of people with at least one long-term condition is estimated to rise to more than 17 million in the coming decades. Furthermore, by 2018, more than 2.9 million people will have multiple long-term health conditions, affecting their ability to work and increasing the cost to the NHS – a double hit on the nation’s finances. 

The report is based on research that was funded by Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Ltd. While Novartis has reviewed the content to ensure technical accuracy, The Work Foundation has retained final editorial control and the recommendations do not necessarily reflect the views of Novartis.

This report focusses on six chronic conditions: psoriasis, diabetic macular oedema, asthma, schizophrenia, heart failure and multiple sclerosis. The recommendations include:

  • Government should examine the use of tax incentives, national rebates or tiered VAT charges for employers who implement policies to support employees with long-term conditions.
  • The NHS to prioritise the early diagnosis of long-term conditions and commit to providing patients with earlier access to new, innovative treatments and medicines.
  • More specialist employment support programmes should be commissioned for people with long-term and mental health conditions.
  • Clinicians should have a greater focus on patients’ aspirations to stay in or access work while managing their condition.
  • All employers should make reasonable adjustments to support employees with long-term and fluctuating conditions.
  • Workplaces should provide an open and supportive environment so individuals feel comfortable about disclosing their condition and seeking support.