According to Unum UK, 15 percent of the UK’s working population aged 16-64 lived with some form of disability in 2021.

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.


Why is this important for HR?

It is vital that 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.

Many individuals also live with conditions which cannot be cured. For example, the symptoms of a long-term condition/chronic condition can only be managed with drugs and treatment rather than cured entirely.

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


Long-term conditions in the workplace 

Unam UK suggest a wellness plan is essential to ensuring that employers and employees can collaborate on if an employee has ongoing health conditions or a recurrence of their symptoms is likely.

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. 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.”





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.