Concrete action needed to tackle incapacity challenge

If you take the forthcoming age regulations and the incapacity benefit reforms together, then the government is planning to get two million people back to work who are currently classed as unfit.

Just to achieve the target of getting one million people off incapacity benefit and into jobs over the next 10 years would mean that an average of about 2,000 people a week will have to be assessed for their fitness to work. So who is going to do that? And what part will OH practitioners play?

Our feature on the incapacity benefit reforms looks at the questions the government’s welfare reforms raise about the future role of OH professionals.

There is no doubt that the skills of OH professionals will be needed if the proposals in January’s Green Paper, A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work, are to succeed – not least in assessing fitness to work.

Kim Boggins, an independent OH nurse specialist and vice-president of the Association of Occupational Health Nurses, raises some of the questions the government needs to answer in our feature. Where are the additional employment advisers going to come from to help the disabled find jobs when there is already a staff shortage in job centres? And who will employ the OH nurses involved in assessing people for the revamped benefits?

The Department for Work and Pensions has promised to set up a working group to look at “workforce planning”, and it says it is looking for “innovative solutions” from professional bodies. Ministers need to listen carefully to what OH nurses have to say during the consultation period.
So far, the government has the good will of many OH professionals. But that could be squandered if it fails to back up rhetoric with some concrete and realistic details about how the strategy will be implemented.

By Noel O’Reilly, editor, Occupational Health



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