Autumn Statement and the Spending Review spell further commitment to reduce long-term absence

Tougher checks for disability benefits?

The Daily Mail wrote today, 25 November 2015, that George Osborne was expected to introduce new rules in awarding benefits to the long-term sick in his Autumn Statement. Today’s Spending Review does outline a vague plan of reforms but the detail will not be available until a white paper is published in 2016. According to Daily Mail, this white paper will include plans for controversial ‘work capability assessments’. Similar fit-to-work assessments have already been required from those on disability benefits although some of the results have been brought to question.

 Current benefit system delivers poor outcomes

According to the spending review document, reforms to sickness benefits are a part of the government’s aim to achieve full employment. It states, “the benefit system continues to deliver poor outcomes for people with disabilities and health conditions”. A new type of benefit called Universal Credit is being introduced to replace various benefits currently in place for disabilities, housing and unemployment.

Universal Credit coupled with support focusing on employment

The document goes on to say: “Universal Credit will provide greater up-front support for claimants with disabilities and health conditions from the start of their claim and enable them to be referred to specialist support from day 1 where appropriate. To support this the Spending Review announces a real terms increase in funding to help people with disabilities and health conditions to get work and remain in work. This includes:

  • a real terms increase in spending on Access to Work, providing specialist IT equipment, or support workers, to help a further 25,000 disabled people each year remain in work
  • expanding the Fit for Work service supporting more people on long-term sickness absence with return to work plans
  • over £115 million of funding for the Joint Work and Health Unit, including at least £40 million for a health and work innovation fund, to pilot new ways to join up across the health and employment systems

“In addition to these measures the government wants to improve links between health services and employment support, recognising timely access to health treatments can help individuals return to work quicker. The government will publish a White Paper in the New Year that will set out reforms to improve support for people with health conditions and disabilities, including exploring the roles of employers, to further reduce the disability employment gap and promote integration across health and employment.”

Honeydew’s assessment of the Spending Review

The government’s drive to introduce earlier intervention in sickness absence cases is definitely welcome. More proactive measures to support employees back to work are definitely required if the country’s productivity is to rise. The document mentions support from day 1 but in effect the Fit for Work service only kicks in when an employee has been or is expected to be absent for 4 weeks. This focus that is now given to absences of 4 weeks or longer is undermining the principles of good absence management whereby the employer should proactively support the absentee back to work from first day of absence. Wider publicity should be given to drive proactive and preventative absence management. Many employers could see a drastic reduction in absence costs by investing in early intervention rather than waiting until someone has been off work for 4 weeks. Despite Dame Carol Black’s and David Frost’s high profile reviews into sickness absence in the UK, too few employers still prioritise these issues as core to their business and profit.

Further reading:

Calculate your direct cost of absence

Indirect cost of absence