In November 2011,  Health at Work- an independent review of sickness absence was published, with the government then spending time considering the recommendations it contained.

The review document is fairly extensive and effectively contextualises the current challenges that need to be overcome in order to reduce sickness absence in the UK. It’s worth pointing out, however, that sickness absence levels have in fact been on the decrease for the past couple of decades – due, no doubt, to advances in medicine as well as other less definable factors such as the changing nature of work itself. There are also record numbers of self-employed people at the moment, too, and it’s well-known that sickness absence is lower among self-employed people.

But while the figures are moving in the right direction, there’s still work to be done, and one specific area that was very well covered in the review is that of long-term sickness absence. the report’s executive summary puts it in plain terms:

… a significant number of absences last longer than they need to adn each year over 300,000 people fall out of work onto health-related state benefits

What happens in many cases, according to the report, is that people who work for smaller firms are often less likely to receive any form of intervention during sickness absence, and this prevents people from getting back to work sooner. Further, there’s a lack of tax incentive for firms to provide the intervention, be it in the shape of medical treatments of vocational rehabilitation.

So it was interesting to read this week that tax relief on interventions should soon be on the cards. The exact words from the budget statement are on the HM Treasury website:

Companies that look after their employees, and help them return to work after periods of sickness, will get new help through the tax system too.

This will be good news for many businesses, especially SME sized businesses for whom, in many cases at least, vocational rehabilitation would otherwise be an unaffordable option.

Speaking in HI Magazine, the AXA PPP business healthcare head of sales commented that the government’s  pledge “shows the government’s commitment to the principle that, by and large, work is good for people, for their families, for business and for society.”

Studies have in the past have indicated that work isn’t just beneficial for people economically and socially, it is good for mental health to in employment. It’s also the case that for many people off sick long term there are times during sickness absence where a lack of intervention can lead to an even longer term period of time off.

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