05 November 2015

Laura Boothman, Policy Manager for Arthritis Research UK, on what to ask George Osborne for in the Spending Review

The 2015 Spending Review was always expected to be tough, as Government looks to find consolidation measures totalling £37 billion and reach a budget surplus by 2020. Recent events have, however, been unexpected – not least the stance of the House of Lords in delaying changes worth £4.4 billion to tax credits. But whether or not the outcome on 25 November matches our expectations, we must continue to be clear on our hopes. Our three asks for the Chancellor are aimed at achieving better quality of life for people with arthritis, alongside economic benefit.

Arthritis Research UK is the charity dedicated to stopping the devastating impact that arthritis has on people’s lives. Musculoskeletal conditions like arthritis affect over 10 million people in the UK and are the largest contributor to disability burden. The pain and disability of these conditions limits people’s independence and inhibits family, social and working lives. The economic impact of musculoskeletal conditions is clear – they cause the loss of 30.6 million working days each year and an annual NHS spend of over £5 billion.

1 – Invest in science

Only by investing in science can we find better ways to diagnose, treat and ultimately cure arthritis. Thanks to complementary investment by Government, industry and charities the UK has a formidable science sector. Our world-class research base has underpinned improvements in treatment, such as the development of anti-TNF therapies that have a huge positive impact on millions of people with rheumatoid arthritis world-wide.

Research also adds to the strength and productivity of the UK economy, creating job opportunities, stimulating innovation and attracting private sector investment. But the sector has strong interdependency and we cannot take continued success for granted. Government should commit to real terms investment in science now, and to a long-term increase in the science budget as soon as possible.

2 – Strengthen public health

Public health, in particular efforts to tackle obesity and physical inactivity, plays a vital role in improving our musculoskeletal health. Much of the population is at increased risk of a long-term musculoskeletal condition due to inactivity, whilst obesity substantially increases the risk of knee osteoarthritis. The NHS’ 5 Year Forward View was clear that ‘to ensure the future health of the nation, a sustainable NHS and economic prosperity’ we have to take prevention seriously. It called for a radical upgrade in public health. With the number of over 65s with arthritis expected to increase by over 50% between 2010 and 2030, this is an area where we cannot afford to stand still.

Government should increase public health spending in real terms, protect and continue to ring-fence the local authority public health budget and maintain Public Health England’s budget in real terms.

3 – Enable people to work

Many people with musculoskeletal conditions want to work, but need additional support. Currently, only 60% of people with musculoskeletal disorders are in work, compared to 74% of people without. Musculoskeletal conditions cause the greatest number of working days lost in the UK and are the most common type of work-related illness.

The Government is prioritising employment and growth and has set a clear and positive aim of halving the disability employment gap. Yet it is currently legislating for change to the employment and support allowance that would in future cut the income of disabled people by £30 a week at a time when they are expected to actively seek work. The Government should extend the provision of support for people with musculoskeletal conditions to remain in, or return to work. It should not reduce support for disabled people, particularly when they are seeking to return to work and regain health.

As the spending review approaches, we’re asking everyone to get involved and raise our asks with the Chancellor through their MP. You can join us here.

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