Employees with asthma need more support

Published:

Employees with uncontrolled asthma earn around £3,000 less per year than the average adult due to limited work opportunities.

In a new report by think tank Demos which looks at the financial cost of long-term disability and illness, uncontrolled asthma cost the UK economy £200 million every year due to employers having to take time off work. 

The report, Potential Limited: The economic cost of uncontrolled asthma, defined uncontrolled asthma as asthma that is not sufficiently controlled to enable an individual to lead their life as if they do not have the disease. 

People with uncontrolled asthma were less likely to work (52%) than the average adult (62%). 

Demos estimated that the respiratory disease equalled a £2 billion loss to the economy due to lower pay and a £2.5 billion loss to the economy due to lower participation in the labour market. 

Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Howden, said that wellbeing programmes can be used to support uncontrolled asthma employees as well as address the loss of earnings.

Speaking to HR magazine, Herbert said: “The vast loss of earnings outlined by the report should act as a wake-up call to employers to consider the wellbeing of not just their employees, but also the dependents and wider families of their workforce.  

“Employers are often unaware of wider family healthcare issues, yet these can and often do also have a very detrimental impact on their employee attendance, engagement, and ultimately productivity too.”

The report estimated a further £41 million was being lost by employers every year due to staff having to take time off work to care for children suffering from an asthma attack. 

Herbert said that where possible, employers should look to extend health and wellbeing support beyond their workforce to support the wider family unit too.

“Whilst there are costs involved, a happy employee with a healthy family is likely to be far more engaged and productive. 

And, as the nation is seeking a quick recovery from COVID-19, each and every employer needs to achieve maximum productivity from all of their workforce,” he said.

NHS data recorded around 3.6m people in England, 6% of the population, are registered with their GP as having asthma.

Speaking to HR magazine, Kitty Ussher, co-author of the report and chief economic advisor at Demos, said that by overlooking uncontrolled asthma, employers are also losing out on great talent.  

She said: "Our research shows that people with uncontrolled asthma find it harder to engage with the world of work, and that employers miss out as a result. 

“Just like any disability, the starting point for HR managers is to be aware that this could be an issue within their teams, and spend the time understanding who is affected and what adaptations and support are required to ensure they can contribute to their full potential."

The report said the 2019 government consultation into ways in which people with disability could be supported to stay in work was too generic and missed opportunities for a cross-disciplinary approach to tackling the economic effects of respiratory disease.

It therefore recommended a cross-departmental taskforce of ministers be set up with NHS England to examine the root causes of inequality in pay and job prospects for people with uncontrolled asthma. 

Further reading: 

Managing recurring sickness absence 

Long-term conditions don't have to mean worklessness 

Absence recording: the silent risk to HR