The government must do more to stem the rising tide of long-term illness and incapacity in the workforce and get long-term absentees back into work, according to a new report by the Institute of Directors (IoD).
With some 700,000 new claimants of Incapacity Benefit a year, the government’s own figures reveal there are now some 2.7 million people of working age claiming some form of incapacity benefit.
What's more, once a claimant has been receiving benefit for a year the average duration of that person's claim is an astonishing further seven years.
Earlier this year, Mercer Human Resource Con claimed that the true cost to British business of sickness absence could be as much as £34 billion – three times the figures quoted by the Confederation of British Industry.
Stress is a further problem for many organisations, particularly in the public sector. The UK has one of the worst records in Europe for the return of employees to work after long-term illness. The most recent figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that over half a million people said they were affected by stress at work and that 13.4 million working days were lost due to stress and related conditions.
According to Geraint Day, Health Policy Analyst at the IoD, “the chances of returning to regular employment tend to diminish with the length of absence from work. There has been no underlying health change to the UK's population to account for the growing number of long-term sick and injured.
"The causes are many and varied, yet the fact is that the numbers add up to great loses: to individuals, to employers and to the nation."
A survey of IoD members shows that generally employers are aware of the importance of health issues in the workplace. Exactly half of respondents said that their company provided an occupational health service for employees, for example.
However, employers felt more could be done by other bodies to assist in rehabilitating staff on long-term sick leave.
”As things stand the lack of an effective NHS rehabilitation service means that the onus is currently on employers and individuals to deal with the issue of rehabilitation.,” Geraint Day, said.
"All the stakeholders, workforce; employers; insurers; and central and local government (especially the NHS) have a role to play in ensuring that everyone who has the inclination and capacity to do so is actively encouraged to remain in or return to working life."