Press release

A million workers off sick for more than a month

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

As 566,000 come off benefits since 2010, ministers move to tackle sickness absence with new service.

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.

More information

Analysis of figures published by the DWP and Office for National Statistics shows that by November 2013 there were 566,000 fewer people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support compared with May 2010.

There are now a record 30.15 million people in work and nearly a quarter of a million fewer people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance than in May 2010 – a number which has been falling every month for the last 14 months.

Strong evidence in recent years has demonstrated that effective employer action can reduce sickness absence levels at low or no cost.

The new service will provide free, independent, work-focused occupational health advice to all employers, but will especially benefit Small and Medium Enterprises who currently have limited or no in-house occupational health services.

The new Health and Work Service will be funded through the abolition of the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Percentage Threshold Scheme (PTS) – an outdated system which does nothing to promote or support active management of sickness absences by either the employer or employee.

Any financial loss to business from the ending of the PTS will more than likely be offset by a reduction in lost working days, earlier return to work and increased economic output.

We estimate savings to employers of around £70 million a year in reduced sickness pay and associated costs, together with a potential reduction in sickness absence duration of between 20% to 40%.

The abolition of the associated SSP record-keeping requirement also removes a regulatory burden on employers – allowing them the flexibility to keep sickness absence records in a manner which best suits their own business need.

Budget 2013 announced a tax exemption on medical interventions recommended by the Health and Work Service. This was extended at the Autumn Statement to include employer-arranged interventions.

The statistics of 960,000 is the average each year between October 2010 and September 2013. Read the long-term sickness absence statistics.

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