Independent review on sickness

The government has called for a major review of the sickness absence system in Britain in order to help combat the staggering £100 billion that working age ill health costs the economy every year. The independent review will explore radical new ways on how the current system can be changed to help more people stay in work and reduce costs.

Under the current system employers bear the costs of short-term sickness with the state, and ultimately the taxpayer, absorbing the cost of longer-term ill health, with over 300,000 people leaving work to claim sickness-related benefits each year. Once out of work these people face an even greater risk of their health deteriorating even further, and the potential of themselves and their families falling into poverty. Ministers are determined to end this vicious cycle and are clear that in these difficult economic times, the country cannot afford to continue to bear these costs.

The review follows an additional £12 million of funding for health and work programmes, including the Fit for Work Service and Occupational Health Advice lines. Both have already proved highly successful in providing support for both employers and individuals in the early stages of sickness absence.

David Frost of the British Chambers of Commerce says, "Sickness absence has a huge impact on businesses - particularly on smaller firms that struggle with the processes and procedures required, not to mention the direct costs involved. The private sector must focus on growth if we are to sustain the recovery, so it is right that the government has chosen to look at ways to reduce sickness absence in the workplace and get people back into employment."

The review, which will report later this year, will:

  • Explore how the current sickness absence system could be changed to help people stay in work, reduce and share costs for the taxpayer and businesses and contribute to economic growth.
  • Examine whether the balance of these costs are appropriately shared between individuals, employers and the State
  • Make tangible recommendations for change
  • Ensure that recommendations for change are consistent with promoting private-sector growth and minimising burdens on business and in particular small- and medium-sized businesses.

The review will look at sickness absence trends and practices across the public and private sectors and across different segments of the private sector (such as firm size). It will examine differences between segments to establish causes and understand best practice. 

  • Fit for Work Services brings together support such as healthcare, employment, skills, housing and debt advice, and will benefit employers, employees, and in turn the taxpayer by reducing pressure on general practice and other health-related services
  • The national Occupational Health Advice lines are valued by employers and provide practical occupational health advice for small and medium-sized businesses on handling individual employee health problems at work.

Facts and Figures:

  • According to the Black Review of the health of Britain's working age population, around 150 million working days are lost each year to sickness absence - six days for each worker
  • Over 300,000 people each year are estimated to flow from work onto benefits
  • Nearly two thirds of those who flow from employment onto sickness related benefits have a mental health condition or musculoskeletal disorder.


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