Headlines: November 23rd, 2011

The longer people remain on sick leave the harder it becomes to get back into work. Work is good for health and it can aid recovery. These are the major findings from an independent review by health and business experts Dame Carol Black and David Frost.

Each year around 11 million employees take sick leave and while most people return to work around 300,000 people go on to claim health-related benefits. This is a huge loss in human potential. In addition, it is costing the taxpayer £13bn a year and the country as a whole is missing out on £15bn in economic output.

In their report the authors argue that the evidence strongly suggests that work can aide recovery. In contrast, the sickness absence system pushes people away from work and provides little support for them to return to work quickly.

For employers tackling sickness absence in the workplace, a key barrier to getting people back to work is that the vast majority of fit notes declare employees to be completely incapable of work. This leaves the employer with no options or advice to help the employee back into work. Therefore, the Review recommends a new Independent Assessment Service that employers and GPs can refer long-term sickness absence cases to for bespoke advice. Employers stand to gain around £100m a year.

The Review recognises that a significant minority of people can work but not in their current job. Currently, the State does not intervene to support job searches until after someone has left work. By then, they are harder to help. The Review recommends that the State introduces a new job brokering service for employees on long-term sickness absence who are unable to return to their current employer. This service could save the State up to £300m a year by reducing the benefits bill.

Although the Review is focussed on job retention, some people will inevitably flow in and out of the benefits system. The Reviewers have observed that the current State benefits system fails claimants with ill-health by directing too many people to Employment and Support Allowance but subsequently declaring most fit for work after a long delay. The Review recommends the removal of the assessment phase for claimants of Employment and Support Allowance. This will allow those claimants who need support to get it sooner and those that can work help to find a job more quickly. It will also save the taxpayer £100m each year.