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Government urged to review its work and health priorities
Britain’s manufacturers are urging the Government to place more emphasis in the UK’s industrial strategy on helping the working age population stay fit, healthy and productive, on the back of a new survey showing a key plank of its plan for getting employees back to work is failing to be embraced by companies, especially SMEs.
The call was made by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation on the back of the UK’s biggest business survey on sickness absence published today and ahead of the evaluation findings of the Fit for Work Service being carried out for Government by the Institute of Employment Studies.
Terry Woolmer, Head of Health & Safety Policy at EEF, commented: “Keeping people fit, healthy and productive is a key element of improving the UK’s productive performance for the overall benefit of the UK economy. Whilst the Fit for Work Service has a key role to play as part of this, companies are clearly not persuaded of the benefits of using it, either because they already have some form of occupational health provision or, they are content to rely on the NHS.
“As such Government needs to review its work and health priorities as part of the development of the wider industrial strategy. This would help improve the productive potential of the economy and reduce the burden on an overstretched NHS.”
According to the survey, whilst over three quarters of companies (77%) are aware of the Fit for Work Service, only a quarter of those aware would use it, whilst an equal number said they would not use it at all. Furthermore, of the fourteen companies in the survey that had used the service only three agreed it had enabled their employees to return to work early. In contrast over a third of companies (36%) still rely entirely on the NHS to provide medical treatment for their employees.
EEF believes that a healthy and productive workforce is an important component of an industrial strategy and overall economic growth. The Fit for Work Service can contribute to this by tackling the most common causes of long-term absence and could also provide the framework for helping more people with disabilities and long-term health conditions into the workplace. This would help improve the productive potential of the economy and reduce the burden on an overstretched NHS.
There is a lack of engagement by Government with both employers and GPs. There is also a view that the current £500 tax exemption to pay for interventions recommended by the service is not a ‘real’ benefit. These are just two of the factors preventing a wider uptake of the service.
EEF has also made the following recommendations:
• The Fit for Work service has to do more to engage with manufacturers and make it clear how engagement with the service will result in employees returning to work earlier.
• There needs to be a serious consideration about whether an expanded Fit for Work service has a place in helping companies employ more individuals with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions.
• The government’s strategy towards older workers should form part of the overall work and health agenda, and the government should consider how incentivising employers to introduce health and well-being programmes will be of particular benefit to older workers who might otherwise leave the world of work.
• Financial or other incentives need to considered to encourage employers to try new and creative ways of supporting more people with disabilities and health conditions in work. The government should assess the viability and practicality of a variety of financial incentives to see which offers the greatest benefit to the UK economy at a macro-economic level.
The survey also shows that companies are upping their efforts to enhance the work and wellbeing of employees over 50 so they can continue to retain their services and address long-term health issues.
Almost half of employers (46%) offer flexible working, whilst almost a third (32%) have invested in workplace modifications and over a quarter (28%) have health promotion arrangements in place. Given skills shortages, and the potential for more limited access to EU workers post Brexit these efforts are likely to increase.
EEF also continues to believe that fiscal incentives have a key role to play in encouraging companies to pay for employee health and wellbeing programmes. Almost four fifths of companies would pay for workplace adjustments, rehabilitation or private medical treatments if financial incentives were introduced whilst just over a quarter (28%) of companies said that financial incentives would help them recruit or retain people with disabilities and health conditions.
The most popular incentive, noted by almost half of companies was employer/government matched funding.
Key findings of the EEF Survey
• Over three quarters of companies are aware of the Fit for Work Service but only a quarter of those aware said they would use it
• Only 14 out of 264 companies had used the Fit for Work service
• Just 3 companies who had used the service said employees had returned to work earlier
• Over a third (38%) of companies rely entirely on the NHS to medically treat employees
• No barriers to employing disabled workers or those with long term health issues by over a third (36%) of companies
• Employers increasingly offering flexible working and workplace modifications for workers over 50
• Almost half of companies (47%) said employer/government matched funding would encourage them to contribute to the cost of employee health and well-being programmes