The government has published a Green Paper, Improving Lives, on the relationship between health and work.

It is seeking the views of employers, disabled people,healthcare providers and others.

What is the government's aim?

Its ambition is to 'transform the employment prospects of disabled people and people with long-term health conditions'. It wants to remove barriers that stop disabled people and people with health conditions from getting into work, and help them remain in work for longer.

Some of the stats

The Green Paper includes some background statistics:

  • Sickness absence costs employers £9bn a year - one survey put the median cost at £622 per absent employee
  • 1.8 million employees on average have a long-term sickness absence of four weeks or more in a year
  • The number of working age disabled people in the UK has increased by 400,000 since 2013, taking the total to more than £7m
  • 48% of disabled people are in employment, compared to 80% of the non-disabled population
  • The employment rate for disabled people with mental health conditions is 32%.

An ageing workforce - the impact

The Green Paper advises that the workforce is projected to increase by around a million over the next ten years, with the majority of this increase in the 50 - 64 age group, for whom health conditions and disabilities are more prevalent. It highlights that the average cost of replacing a worker earning over £25,000 is between £20,000 and £40,000.

With these figures in mind, the government's view is that employers will increasingly need to support their employees to remain healthy and manage their conditions.

Part of the plan

Part of the government's plan includes:

  • the public sector leading by example
  • encouraging disclosure -the government wants employers to create environments where employees feel able to disclose health issues and employers act on that information to improve employee health
  • providing guidance to employers - it will research what employers would find useful in a one-stop shop on health and work.

What does it ask?

The consultation is detailed and asks many questions. Here are some of particular interest to employers:

  • What are the barriers preventing employers recruiting and retaining disabled people and those with health conditions?
  • Should statutory sick pay be reformed to encourage a phased return to work?
  • What role should the insurance sector play in supporting the recruitment and retention of disabled people and those with health conditions?

On fit notes and occupational health:

  • Are doctors best placed to provide work and health information, make a judgment on fitness for work and provide sickness certification? If not, who is?
  • What information should be captured on fit notes to best help employers?
  • Is the current fit note the right vehicle? Does it meet your needs?
  • Is occupational health best delivered at work, through private provision, through the health system, or a combination?
  • What is your experience of the Fit for Work service?

How do we respond?

You can respond up to Friday 17 February 2017. The full consultation and details of how to respond are in the Green Paper: Improving Lives.

CIPD absence survey

Separately, the CIPD has published its annual Absence Management Survey. A key finding was that, despite increasingly looking to line managers to manage absence, less than half of employers provide them with training for this task. The survey also found that the average level of employee absence is 6.3 days per year, and that stress accounts for 47% of short-term and 53% of long-term absences.


Kathleen Morrison

Practice Development Lawyer