Action called for as UK loses out to sick workforce

Conference debate raises issues of responsibility regarding
the health of the UK workforce


Is Labour’s record on workplace health more spin than
substance? This was the topic discussed at a fringe meeting at the recent
Labour Party Conference, where panelists representing employers and trade
unions debated the health of the UK workforce.


Our Healthier Workforce was hosted by Swiss Life and chaired
by Will Hutton, chief executive of The Industrial Society.


Panelists including Tessa Jowell MP, employment minister, Dr
Ian Peters, deputy director general, British Chambers of Commerce and Owen
Tudor, senior policy officer, TUC. The panelists addressed the issue of whether
the political consensus has shifted from the state guarding the welfare of all
and how much responsibility employers need to take for ensuring the health of
their workforce.


Key points discussed at the meeting included:


– The UK lags far behind many other European countries in
its attitudes to rehabilitating sick employees


– Employers must take increasing responsibility for the
welfare of their workforce but Government must realise that this presents an
additional burden and must give incentives


– People who have been away from work due to sickness for
six months are only 50 per cent likely to return to work. This reduces to only
10 per cent after one year’s


– If sickness issues are addressed early enough, long term
absence can be minimised.


– The four main strands of good healthcare management are
prevention, early intervention, individual case management and quality data


– 316 million working days are lost to British industry each
year due to sickness – equivalent to £13bn


A discussion forum on the topic is now running on the Swiss
Life web site and the Financial Times web site and has provoked some lively
debate on the respective responsibilities of Government and employers.

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