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With labour market participation high on the policy agenda, much of it driven by work-limiting ill health, we set out key areas for immediate focus by the government and employers to address barriers to work.

Good-quality work is one of the building blocks of a healthy society. It provides people with income and opportunities for social participation, which are linked to better physical and mental health. Both having a health condition and being disabled can create similar types of barriers to finding, taking up or staying in employment and can exacerbate other barriers to work.

In this short briefing, which has informed the Health Foundation’s Autumn Statement submission, we suggest areas for action to reduce these barriers and to improve support for people unable to work due to ill health. The briefing focuses on the current system and short-term action, using available evidence. Longer term, greater consideration is needed of the underlying issues behind barriers to good work for people in ill health and the effective action that government and employers can take. The Health Foundation will shortly announce a commission to explore and recommend long-term action on this agenda.

In the short-term, we believe that government and employers can do more to:

  • Help people currently experiencing poor health to get back into work. They can do this by improving financial and employment support through social security, introducing a new approach to employment support that better accounts for health and removing benefit payment reducing sanctions that risk worsening people’s health. 
  • Protect people at risk of leaving employment on health grounds. They can do this by supporting employers to design jobs that enable people to stay in work and help prevent their health deteriorating further reforming sick pay and improving working conditions.
  • Strengthen social security to tackle the underlying causes of poor health. They can do this by ensuring that support through the social security system fully accounts for the extra costs of living with a disability or health condition and also provides people with an adequate standard of living.

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