Independent think tank study reveals strong links between uncontrolled asthma and losses to the UK economy

For the first time, a leading independent think tank has put a figure on the financial losses caused by uncontrolled asthma.

The report titled “Potential Limited: The Economic Cost of Uncontrolled Asthma”, developed by Demos, commissioned by Sanofi, has found that the respiratory condition strikes a significant blow to patients’ wages – people with uncontrolled asthma earn around £3,000 less per year than the average adult; renders patients around 10% less likely than the average person to be employed at all; and creates a £4.5bn hole in the UK economy.1

But why is this, and what must be done to address it?

Up to 10% of people in England have asthma and over half of them have experienced symptoms in the last 12 months, which the NHS defines as “uncontrolled” asthma. Its symptoms and side effects are all-too well-known: the breathlessness, coughing, wheezing, not to mention the distressing attacks that lead to frequent Accident and Emergency (A&E) admissions.2,3,4

When we consider the compound effect of these symptoms, it is not surprising that uncontrolled asthma can have a substantial impact on a person’s ability to study and work. Jess, a 25-year-old medical student from Leicester University, admits the condition has cast a dark shadow on what should be a promising outlook as a future doctor:

Ideally, I would love to work in A&E or intensive care, but I know that due to my health it is not realistic. And although junior doctors start on a reasonable salary, my asthma means it’ll be impossible for me to work full-time, so I’m already stressing about how I will manage on a part-time salary. After eight years of medical training on something that I’m so passionate about and that’s obviously valuable to society, it’s frustrating that my asthma creates these ongoing worries and added pressures on myself and my family.

Jess Speller, asthma patient and medical student
Jess’s experience fits well with the government’s recent acknowledgment that people with disabilities must be better supported to stay in work. However, Demos notes no firm action has yet been taken to ensure this:

Our research shows the financial cost that this lack of action has upon families, taxpayers and the economy. We call upon the government to create a cross-departmental task force of ministers, together with NHS England, to establish the root causes of this inequality for people with uncontrolled asthma, and to determine the necessary policy changes required: for Jess, and for future generations.

Kitty Ussher, Chief Economic Advisor at Demos and co-author of the report

Sanofi hopes the report will bring a greater awareness and more profound understanding around the limitations that people with uncontrolled asthma face, and how a lack of support affects society as a whole. £3,000 can make a huge difference to an individual or family’s budget, and as the report highlights, there exists a great potential for the UK economy too. We are confident the government will be able to continue the good work undertaken so far to ensure that people with uncontrolled asthma are able to achieve their full potential in society.

To learn more about the economic impact of uncontrolled asthma, download the full report here.


  1. Demos, (2021). Potential Limited: The Economic Cost of Uncontrolled Asthma. Available at: Last accessed: January 2021.
  2. NHS Digital, (2019). Quality and Outcomes Framework: Achievement, Prevalence and Exceptions (Asthma). Available at: from:
    . Last accessed: January 2021.
  3. NHS Digital, (2018). Health Survey for England 2018 Asthma. Available at: Last accessed: January 2021.
  4. Asthma UK, (2018). Slipping through the net: The reality facing patients with difficult and severe asthma. Available at: Last accessed: January 2021.