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Work and health think tank: improving the opportunities for people with long term conditions and disabilities

9 February 2017

Bristol Health Partners and Bristol City Council brought together more than 90 policy makers, service providers, decision takers and people with long term conditions and disabilities, for a work and health think tank event on Monday 30 January.

Research shows that work and income are major determinants of health, wellbeing, quality of life and life expectancy. However, the relationship between work and health is complex.

The event aimed to start a conversation about what we can do to improve the opportunities and health outcomes for everyone who lives and works in the West of England.

Why did we run this event?

We already know that:

  • Musculoskeletal and mental health conditions are major causes of unemployment and sickness absence
  • ‘Good’ work which allows people to learn, develop and achieve, has a positive effect on physical and mental wellbeing. Insecure, low paid and unsafe work has the opposite effect
  • There is a significant and unacceptable gap in employment rates between disabled people and non-disabled people
  • One in three of the working age population has a long term health condition. Many people with long term health conditions are in work but many are not, even though they could be
  • The percentage of the population living with long term health conditions will rise as the population ages. This means that managing health conditions in the workplace is going to be essential
  • Being out of work and not being able to find a suitable job can have a profoundly negative impact on health and wellbeing
  • Sickness absence and unemployment have economic costs as well as personal costs for individuals and communities. In 2012, sickness absence was estimated to be costing the Bristol economy more than £240 million a year
  • Although the West of England has been successful in attracting inward investment and creating jobs, there are people across our region who have not benefited from this success
  • Some of our economic and health inequalities are persistent and have shown little change

No single organisation can resolve these issues alone. We need to work collaboratively using our different strengths and assets. The joint Department of Work and Pensions and Department of Health Work, Health and Disability Green Paper is a welcome contribution to the debate.


The event included contributions from:

  • David Relph, Director, Bristol Health Partners
  • Councillor Fi Hance, Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Bristol City Council
  • Shelley Fuller, Senior Policy Adviser, Department of Work and Pensions, Work and Health Strategy Unit
  • Leo Capella, Campaign Project Coordinator, Anna Denham, Research and Engagement and Charlotte White, Volunteer Champion, Disability Rights UK
  • Chris Shaw, Director of Health Improvement, Sheffield City Council
  • John Readman, Responsible Officer for Employment and Skills, West of England devolution
  • Becky Pollard, Director for Public Health, Bristol

Delegates heard presentations from these speakers, and then broke into ten groups to discuss the following themes:

  • Data: what we know about local populations in respect of work and worklessness, disabilities and long-term conditions, and what are the data gaps?
  • Department of Work and Pensions (DWP): national and local ambitions and intentions
  • Mental health: why the system is currently failing people with mental health conditions and what local organisations can do to improve their work and health outcomes
  • Musculoskeletal conditions: the largest cause of sickness absence - what needs to happen to get people back to work quicker?
  • Disability Rights UK: what do employers need to do to recruit and retain disabled people?
  • Into Work programme: local practice, employment skills and health
  • West of England Combined Authority: partnerships
  • Social prescribing and self-care: how can social prescribing support disabled people and people with long-term health conditions (including mental health conditions) to access support
  • Addressing financial exclusion and welfare reform: supporting people experiencing changes to their benefits to find work, access training and get other support they may need to improve their situation for the long-term
  • Fit notes: how can we ensure good quality conversations about health and work, and improve how fit notes work?

What did people think?

Delegates were invited to use #workandhealth during the event, the hashtag being used nationally to discuss DWP’s Green Paper. Highlights from our event included:

Becky Pollard, Director of Public Health, Bristol City Council said:

“Employment and income are two of the most important determinants of health and wellbeing. Mental health and musculoskeletal conditions are major causes of unemployment and sickness across our region. To tackle these issues we need a collective approach and this think tank provides a fantastic opportunity to start that discussion.”

Councillor Ian Scott, South Gloucestershire Council, said:

“It is important for health inequalities to be addressed if all our residents are to benefit from economic growth in the West of England and there should be no barriers to work. I hope the partnership work will help deliver this.”

Steve Nelson, Chief Executive of sport charity Wesport, said:

“I hope this event is the start of sharing knowledge, developing new collaborations to support people into work, and keep people in work in their roles. Wesport believes encouraging active workplaces is one of the simplest ways to improve productivity and reduce absenteeism. I really appreciated the opportunity to learn more about local work and health challenges at this event.”

Next steps

Each discussion group was asked to draw out three priority points for further development. Watch the videos below, read the notes and get in touch by emailing so that we can decide together which of these points to progress and how to do so.


Watch videos from the event

Work and health think tank: improving the opportunities for people with long term conditions and disabilities
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