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.
“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,” Terry Woolmer, head of health & safety policy at EEF, said. “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 per cent) 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 per cent) 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.
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 per cent) offer flexible working, whilst almost a third (32 per cent) have invested in workplace modifications and over a quarter (28 per cent) 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 per cent) 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.