A new health and work assessment and advisory service is to be set up to provide advice to employees, employers and GPs in order to help people back to work after sickness absence and prevent them falling out of employment.
Research shows that the longer people are off sick, the less likely they are to make a successful return to work; after six months’ absence from work, there is only a 50 per cent chance of someone making a successful return. Evidence also suggests that occupational health services are the most effective means of helping people with health problems back to work, yet only a minority of small firms provide access to these. The new service will therefore fill a gap in the market by providing free, independent, objective assessment and advice to help people make quicker and lasting returns to work.
One million employees each year experience one or more spells of long-term absence over 4 weeks. Employers pay £9 billion a year on sick pay and associated costs e.g. administrative and recruitment costs. The state spends £13 billion annually on health-related benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Income Support, and Severe Disability Allowance.
The scheme will save employers up to £160 million a year in statutory sick pay and increase economic output by up to £900 million a year.
Currently, only 10 per cent of employees of small firms have access to an occupational health service, compared with more than half of staff in larger firms. The new service will enable employers of all sizes to access expert advice to help them manage sickness absence in the workplace.
The new service is part of a series of measures announced by the Government to help employers support their staff and prevent employees needlessly going onto sickness benefits, and it is part of the Government’s response to the recommendations of health and business experts Dame Carol Black and David Frost.
Dame Carol Black said: “I very much welcome the Government’s decision to press ahead with the new independent assessment and advisory service which David and I recommended in our Review.
“A new independent assessment and advice service will address the sicknote culture and offer people the best possible support to get back to work quickly.
“What David and I found in our Review is that far too many people with potentially manageable conditions – like stress or back pain – are effectively being signed off work for life, sliding from a short spell of sickness absence to a life of long-term benefit dependency.”