06 December 2016 #Employment
Whilst the rate of employment for the non-disabled population is currently 80%, only 48% of disabled people are in employment. This inequality has led the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health to jointly publish a Green Paper, “Improving Lives” to look at “one of the most significant inequalities in the UK today”.
The Paper sets out the Government’s proposed plans to help disabled people and those with long term health conditions (“The Individuals”) improve their health and, where possible, move into and remain in sustainable employment. The Green Paper marks the beginning of the consultation process, and the Government will be seeking views on the proposals until 17th February 2017.
It is “widely recognised” that appropriate work brings with it a range of health benefits. Despite this, the UK health and welfare systems are, according to the Green Paper, “struggling to provide meaningful support”. The Government believes this leads to a “downward spiral of declining health and being out of work” which creates pressures on the NHS and denies those individuals the benefits of employment.
Objectives of the Green Paper
The Paper sets out the following main objectives of the consultation:
The Governments ultimate aim is for employers to have a greater understanding of the important relationship between health, work and disability.
Practically for employers this means:
The statistics outlined in the Green Paper illustrate that disability and long term health issues is an area which the Government are keen to reform.
These proposals may mean that employers eventually need to review and, where necessary, amend their recruitment policies to bring them in line with the government objectives. Policies regarding contact with staff who are absent or on sick leave may also need to be changed in order to make sure that they comply with the proposals. Government guidance on this point has the potential to be extremely useful, as the extent and form of contact with employees who are on long term sick can often be a minefield for employers who want to remain in contact, but do not want to cause the employee stress.
Also interesting is the potential review of the “fit note”. Many employers have found that fit-notes currently given are of very little practical use and often just serve as an administrative exercise. Therefore, review of this area, may result in a useful tool for employers when dealing with employees with health conditions. This is clearly a key issue for the Government as just this week the Department for Work and Pensions has issued a “Fit for Work: a quick guide for GPs” which aims to improve referrals to the Fit for Work service.
Whilst the proposals in the Green Paper are interesting, particularly around SSP and “Fit notes”, this is just an initial consultation. The consultation closes on 17 February 2017 and then, following a review of the responses, the Government will publish a response outlining any changes it intends to implement.
As we have seen with a variety of other consultations, there is no guarantee that the Government will come out with any changes. In the wake of Brexit, many areas of reform have been pushed back or abandoned completely. However, disability in the work place is a priority for the Government, mainly as ill health among working age people costs the economy £100 billion. Therefore, this area will definitely be one to watch in 2017.
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