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15% of the UK’s working population aged 16-64 lived with some form of disability in 2021.[i],[ii] This is according to government statistics which define a disability as a physical or mental health condition that has lasted or is expected to last more than 12 months and reduces their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

In total, 8.8 million people in the UK aged 16-64 live with disabilities, more than 5 million of whom are well enough to undertake at least some work and be economically active.1,[iii]

Given 15% of the workforce lives with some form of disability, it’s vital employers know how to support these employees to bring their best selves to work. This is especially true given that people with disabilities are twice as likely to fall out of work as people without disabilities.[iv]

Long-term conditions, also known as chronic conditions, are those which currently can’t be cured. The condition and its symptoms can only be managed with drugs and treatment rather than cured entirely.

Recently, the threat of long COVID may have monopolised the limelight in terms of awareness of long-term conditions, but an array of chronic conditions exist that people have been living with for years.

The last time the government conducted major research into prevalence of long-term conditions was 2012, which found that the ten most common long-term conditions in England were:

  1. High blood pressure (hypertension)
  2. Depression
  3. Asthma
  4. Diabetes
  5. Coronary heart disease
  6. Chronic kidney disease
  7. Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  8. Stroke/transient ischemic attack (TIA, also known as a ‘mini stroke’)
  9. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  10. Cancer. [v]

Unum UK wants to shine a spotlight on the issue of long-term conditions in the workplace and offer employers the tools they need to support employees living with long-term conditions and disabilities.

One key tool is a Wellness Action Plan, which employers and employees can collaborate on if an employee has ongoing health conditions or a recurrence of their symptoms is likely.

Unum makes these available to our Group Income Protection policyholders. They facilitate open dialogue between employers and employees with long-term conditions to ensure employees are fully supported in their role and can continue thriving at work.

Wellness Action Plans encourage regular reviews with employers and employees to ensure they stay fit for purpose. Unum provides template Wellness Action Plans, which offer helpful guidance on what to cover, which might include:

  • The ‘Wellness Continuum’ — employees can share what their condition looks like when they’re at their best, having a flare up or have become unable to work
  • Workplace adjustments — what employees living with disabilities need to support them in the workplace
  • Condition-related absence management — how employers will manage time off for treatment/medical appointments or absences due to the condition
  • Return to work support — how employers will support a return to work after a condition-related absence where possible.

Unum UK’s Director of Claims, Rehab and Medical Services Paula Coffey says:

“Wellness Action Plans are not about making people with long-term conditions feel forced to work. If people face this pressure whilst unwell, this can be harmful and worsen their condition. We don’t advocate this at all.

“In fact, we’re proud to provide financial security in paid claims to insured employees worth an average £7 million per week, including to those who cannot work through long-term conditions.

“Instead, a Wellness Action Plan is about ensuring people with long-term conditions who do feel able to work and want to work are empowered to do so. It ensures they have what they need from their employer to remain well and in their jobs.

“The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence finds long-term sickness absence (4 weeks or more) harmful to physical, mental and financial wellbeing, as well as social inclusion.[vi] Long-term sickness can have terrible costs to individuals beyond loss of income. Taking appropriate steps to avoid it where possible, especially among those who are most vulnerable, is crucial to support employees living and working with disabilities and long-term conditions when they need it the most.”

[i] Labour market status of disabled people, ONS (February 2022)

[ii] Summary of labour market statistics, ONS (March 2022)

[iii] Economically active means either employed or classed as unemployed (although the definition of ‘unemployed’ is being without a job but actively seeking work in the last 4 weeks and available to start work in the next 2 weeks; or out of work but have found a job and are waiting to start it in the next 2 weeks). ‘Economically active’ therefore includes everyone currently able to work.

[iv] The Employment of Disabled People, Department for Work & Pensions and Department of Health & Social Care (March 2020), p.4

[v] Long-Term Conditions Compendium of Information (Third Edition), Department of Health (May 2012), p.5

[vi] Workplace health: Long-term sickness absence and capability to work, NICE (November 2019), p.41

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