Department for Work and Pensions task group will tackle the £13bn a year lost to sickness absence

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has created a task group to address the 175 million working days – and £13bn a year – lost due to sickness absence each year.

The group, made up of government, customer, business and insurer representatives, will identify what services already exist to help ill or injured people back to work, and what business could be doing to provide more support.

Launched officially this week, the group is part of the government’s 2005 Health Work and Well-being strategy, which brings together government, employers and healthcare professionals.

DWP Minister Lord McKenzie said: “Very few employers offer occupational health or vocational rehabilitation. This taskforce will identify why this is the case, what barriers are preventing wider provision, and what needs to be done to change this.”

“Employers must recognise that rehabilitation is not purely medical,” he added, “but also a management activity, and they must do more to help their employees return to work.”

One million people take sick leave every week, 3,000 of these will not return within six months, and 2,500 will still be on incapacity benefit five years later, according to McKenzie.

He added: “Rehabilitation is not about forcing people back to work. Work, in fact, is often a crucial step in helping people return to full health. And businesses have much to gain in terms of reduced sickness absence, and improved staff engagement and retention.”

The remit of the task group is to gather and assess data, including costs and benefits, on:

  • Existing provision of occupational health and vocational rehabilitation services by employers

  • Reasons why occupational health and vocational rehabilitation services are not provided by employers

  • Incentives which would be successful in encouraging wider take-up of occupational health and vocational rehabilitation services by employers, such as tax relief

  • Methods, tools and products which would support and encourage a wider take-up of occupational health and vocational rehabilitation services.

The group will publish a report assessing the current position later this year.

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