A fortnight ago, I applied for a debate on arthritis and employment. I was delighted to be informed by Mr Speaker last week that my application had been successful and so today I was very proud indeed to lead a debate on supporting those with arthritis and related conditions who wish to enter or to remain in work, particularly through the Government's Access to Work scheme. There are 17.8 million people in the UK with arthritis and related conditions. Many are not currently working but are keen to do so and certainly can with the right help in place. The debate was a great opportunity to discuss how we can support that move into employment, and I was delighted that there we so many positive contributions. As I and others mentioned, the Access to Work scheme is an excellent facility but there are some teething problems, not least that it is not yet sufficiently widely-known. The Minister was very encouraging in his response:
I recognise hon. Members’ broad point that more people need to benefit from the Access to Work scheme ... We are looking at improving awareness in jobcentres, so that in the initial conversation we take into account everybody’s unique opportunities and challenges, particularly on health, and that it is ingrained in all our frontline staff that this is an option to help unlock barriers. That goes right to the core of the principle of the Joint Work and Health Unit. I had a meeting about that earlier, and we recognise just how important it is. We need to work more closely with stakeholders to promote this to their members as something that can be utilised. We should work with GPs and health professionals to ensure that they are aware of the opportunity.
The full text of my speech, other Members' contributions and the Minister's response can be found here.