Almost a million workers on sick leave for more than a month

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As many as 960,000 employees were on sick leave for a month or more each year on average between October 2010 and September 2013, the government has revealed today (10 February 2014), as it prepares to launch a new Health and Work Service to combat the problem.

The government has already taken big steps in getting people on long-term sick benefits back into work as part of the government’s long-term economic plan, with almost a quarter of a million coming off incapacity benefits since 2010 – and almost a million who put in a claim actually have been found fit for work.

It now wants to do more to support business to prevent sickness absence turning into long-term welfare dependency in the first place by setting up a new support service.

Recent figures show the largest quarterly increase in employment since records began and more than half a million people coming off benefits since 2010.

But more than 130 million days are still being lost to sickness absence every year in Great Britain and working-age ill health costs the national economy £100 billion a year.

The Health and Work Service will help employees who have been on sickness absence for 4 weeks to return to work and support employers to better manage sickness absence among their workforce. It’s expected to save employers £70 million a year and cut the time people spend off work by 20% to 40%.

Minister of State for Work and Pensions Mike Penning said: “More than 130 million days a year are lost to sickness absence in Great Britain, which has a substantial impact on workers, employers and taxpayers.

“As part of the government’s long-term economic plan, we are taking action to improve get people back into work. This is a triple-win. It will mean more people with a job, reduced cost for business, and a more financially secure future for Britain.”

Important facts on sickness absence:

  • employers face a yearly bill of around £9 billion for sick pay and associated costs with individuals missing out on £4 billion a year in lost earnings
  • around 300,000 people a year fall out of work and into the welfare system because of health-related issues
  • taxpayers fund around £13 billion a year on health-related sickness benefits and £2 billion a year in healthcare, sick pay reimbursement (PTS) and other taxes

The Health and Work Service will offer a work-focused occupational health assessment and case management to employees in the early stages of sickness absence.

GPs will be able to refer employees for assessment by the new service once they are absent, or expected to be absent, from work due to illness for four weeks. Employers can also refer employees.

The work-focused occupational health assessment will identify the issues preventing an employee from returning to work and draw up a plan for them, their employer and GP, recommending how the employee can be helped back to work more quickly.

The plan will include a timetable for a return to work, fitness for work advice, as well as signpost to appropriate help. Employees will be supported throughout their time with the service, so they can return to work as soon as they are able to.

It will also provide an advice service on the internet and telephone for anyone who needs it.

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6 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. For goodness sake. This is just part of the overall narrative of this Govt that the UK working population is a bunch of work-shy scroungers. Stop following this agenda.

    If you are sick, you’re sick.

    In the UK, we work the longest hours in Europe. I also believe that we take fewer days sick than our European counterparts. (I can’t find the data offhand).

    We also do more unpaid work in the evenings and at weekends. Stress levels in the workplace are rising. I find the odd sickie is usually to attend a job interview (because unhappiness in jobs is increasing – ?). People resent using their earned leave to attend because of the extra long hours they give voluntarily.

    In the rare cases where absence is unauthorised, HR folks should be analysing the data to get at the root of the problem. It’s usually down to poor managers.

  2. Mark
    You are completely missing the point
    The point is that all the research shows that people detach from the employer and become ‘non-emplyees This initiative is about helping people to find a way back to work which is in their best interests
    There is a good argument that this is not the Government’s interest and employers ought to be doing it but most employers have no access to OH so it has to be worth a try

  3. Peter

    Are you the author of this article or a commentator?

    Did you write or read the para “with almost a quarter of 1 million coming off incapacity benefits since 2010 and almost 1,000,000 to put in a claim actually have been found fit for work”?

    “Almost (sic) a quarter of 1 million” (so that’s 250,000, isn’t it? Or less? Data source?)

    “Since 2010” so – that’s four years! (All other figs quoted are annual – why?)

    “Put in a claim actually have actually been found fit for work”. Really? Data source? Or are these the people that Atos have found to be ‘fit for work”. The people who have subsequently been unable to attend their sign-off meetings because they have died!

    Who has missed the point here again? Was it you that wrote the article?

  4. Many readers of this article will be operational HR people who well understand the issues of sickness absence amongst their workforce.

    Those who are ahead of the game will recognise the importance of good, well-managed OH schemes are will have them in place. Those that don’t should consider them.

    Continued contact with employees who are off sick is not harassment if conducted in a systematic and sincere way; Employers should demonstrate the same “engagement” with their employees that they expect of them in return.

    Most employees want to return to work as soon as possible – to be back on full pay, doing productive things in a supportive environment. HR functions should monitor absence by Dept to check for any spikes in sickness absence and to investigate further if they believe there is a reason to. Manager training may be required

    A planned, phased return can help with things such as mental health problems (the fastest growing illness in the UK), but professional medically-qualified advice should always be sought.

    Companies with private medical insurance schemes should talk to their insurer or broker. Most insurers offer OHS support for nil (or a very small) additional cost.

    And Employee Telephone Helplines are also available but not always actively publicised as they should be.

    Employee health is a worthwhile area of management attention – after all, we employ people to be employed and productive, not to be away from the workplace.

  5. As a member of the RMG team that reduced sick absence saving £200ml + this has to be a good initiative however it will only be a real success if there is a willingness by the employer and employee to work together to get people back to work

  6. Lord Freud, the Minister for welfare reform recently acknowledged the potential for employer participation in the new Health and Work Service (HWS) becoming mandatory if its initial voluntary structure is not a success.

    Ensuring that employees on longer term sickness absence (after four weeks) are given every help to return to work is in everyone’s interest, not least the Government who will end up footing the benefit bill if no successful occupational health intervention takes place.

    Judging by the comments made by many in the media, the potential positive aspects of this new service have been lost in a sea of Atos loathing and mistrust of any state sponsored health assessment.

    The initial concept of the HWS was to help small employers and their employees with no access to occupational health services, manage longer term absence on a voluntary basis.

    However, as details of the service emerge almost every other day and with the suggestion that participation could be mandatory, we could be seeing the start of a whole new state led approach to occupational health.

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