Government publishes review into sickness absence

Sickness absence systems push people away from work and provide little support for them to return to work quickly, according to an independent review aimed at reducing the cost of sickness to employers, taxpayers and the economy.

The Sickness absence review was presented to the government by Dame Carol Black, national director for Health at Work, and David Frost, former director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, on 21 November.

In February 2011, the government called for a major review of the sickness absence system in the UK in order to combat the 140 million days lost to sickness absence every year.

The review makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • A new independent assessment service (IAS) that employers and GPs can refer long-term sickness absence cases to for bespoke advice. Employers stand to gain around £100 million a year from reductions to sick pay bills from using this service.
  • 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 £300 million a year by reducing the benefits bill.
  • The removal of the assessment phase for claimants of employment and support allowance. This will allow those claimants that are in need of support to get it soon and those that can work find a job more quickly. It will also save the taxpayer £100 million each year.

The government will undertake a comprehensive assessment of the review’s findings and recommendations, with the view to publishing a response during 2012.

Dame Carol Black, national director for Health and Work, said: “Sickness absence from work can be unavoidable, but when unduly prolonged it is wasteful and damaging.†

“We believe we have presented an urgent and compelling case to change the current system so that it unashamedly promotes work for those that can.

“If implemented, these recommendations will ensure many more people with health conditions are able to enjoy the benefit of work; far fewer will needlessly lose work and fall into long-term benefit dependency.”

David Frost, former director general at the British Chamber of Commerce, said: “Evidence clearly shows that the longer you are out of work the harder it becomes to get back in. But in many cases sickness absence is due to health conditions that are nonetheless compatible with work, and can often be improved by work.

“The current certification system does not provide employers with the advice they need to make informed decisions about their employees’ capability for work.

“The establishment of the independent assessment service will provide practical support and help to allow employers to make informed judgements about a return to work for their staff.”

Lord Freud, the minister for Welfare Reform, added: “The government is committed to supporting more people with health conditions to work.

“The economy loses £15 billion in lost economic output each year due to sickness absence and we cannot continue to foot this bill.

“But even more important is the impact of needless inactivity on people’s lives; the damage to their aspirations and their health and the damage to their families and communities.”

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Read also the Employee Benefits sickness absence roundtable discussion 2011

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